By Gordon Davis
Several years ago, Worcester Police Chief Gary Gemme, now retired, announced that the Worcester Police Department was investigating the policy of the use of body cameras for on-duty patrol officers. Like with most “policy” issues in the City of Worcester, the investigation was conducted in secret.
Advocates of the policy of using body cameras pointed out that body cameras protect both the public and the police officers. The information provided by the video is considered indisputable, unlike oral testimony.
With body cameras the actions of a member of the public is clearly shown, and this protects police officers from false or unsubstantial complaints. Also, the actions of the police are clearly recorded, protecting the public from poorly trained police officers or officers who are abusive.
Body cameras are used in at least 42 large police departments nation-wide and many more smaller police departments. Boston is initiating the use of body cameras on a trial basis this year. Leicester (MA) and Brookfield already use them.
The overall results have been that the number of complaints made by the public are down and the number of arrests is also down. Both statistics point to a reduction of frivolous activity by the public and police. Such interactions over what many of us would call “frivolous” often lead to escalations.
The Worcester City Council has essentially abrogated it duty and responsibility to set policy for the Worcester Police Department. The City Manager and City Council are just rubber stamps for whatever the Police Chief and his cronies tell them.
There is no transparency in terms of complaints by the public.
There is no significant external oversight over use of funds.
Several Worcester City Councilors have passed resolutions in effect saying “support the cops – right or wrong.”
A group of residents are petitioning the Worcester City Council to have public hearings on changes to Worcester Police Department policies.
The petition will be given to the Worcester City Council at the August 16, 2016, Worcester City Council meeting.
Hopefully, if approved by City Council, the public hearings will be real and honest.
The public hearings should not be like City Manager Ed Augustus’ Department of Justice hearings in 2015 during which the police chief did not appear and the notes were lost!
The ACLU has come up with a set of rules, a policy for the use of body cameras by the police. The Boston Police Department has adopted 80 percent of the ACLU’s proposals.
These proposals include when the cameras should be turned on or off, who gets access to the videos, verification of the cameras’ operation, etc.
These proposals certainly could be used as a basis for the Worcester City Council establishing a body camera policy for the Worcester Police Department. The City Council should also conduct an audit about any money received via grants for a pilot program for body camera use.
I have been to a lot of City Council meetings and seen a lot of citizen petitions describing good policies for the City of Worcester. I have seen most of these petitions “filed” or thrown away. The petition regarding changes to Worcester Police Department policy is too important to be ignored.
Given the tensions between the public – especially people of color and the poor – and the police, there is a real need for the protection of our rights.