Just a couple days after President Barack Obama announced a proposal to help police across the country fund body cameras, Colonel Timothy Alben of the State Police was quoted in The Boston Globe as saying he is considering adopting them:
“I think overall it’s a good thing,” said Colonel Timothy P. Alben, superintendent of the Massachusetts State Police. “I’m just concerned about all the collateral issues that go with it.”
Alben said he is considering a pilot program with either body cameras or dashboard cameras for about six troopers. The State Police field-tested dash cameras about 10 or 15 years ago, he said, but the volume of video footage — stored in those days on DVDs — was overwhelming, and there were concerns about the legality of recording citizens.
These days, he said, data is easier to store, but still voluminous, and fielding public and media requests for the footage would be a massive undertaking.
The department probably would have to negotiate with the unions to introduce the cameras, Alben said, and cameras are expensive. Still, he said, he believes that eventually, cameras are coming.
“I think that most people today walk around with a smartphone in their pocket or on their belt or in their bag. They’ve all got recording capability wherever they go,” said Alben. “I think the idea of technology expanding into this area — there’s a certain inevitability to that.”
This is a complete reversal for Alben, who told WBZ just a few weeks ago that the “competing few dollars out there for equipment and training” made it unlikely the State Police would adopt the technology.
When I recently asked David Procopio, the head of the State Police Media Relations department, about body cameras and dashboard cameras, I got a similar answer:
We do not have any plans to do so at this time [i.e., implement body cameras]. In the past cameras have proven to be cost-prohibitive. As with many public agencies, allocation of limited resources demands that we prioritize how we spend our funding, and we have determined that the best service to the greatest number of public citizens is to allocate funds to protect people from violent crime; from reckless and dangerous motorists; from drug trafficking, gun trafficking and human trafficking; from child abduction and abuse; from organized crime; from elder abuse; and from terrorist threats and cyber threats, and to hold accountable the criminals who commit such crimes.
I think it is inevitable that many departments will consider the use of body cameras in the next decade or so, and I am sure that the pros and cons of body cameras will the subject of discussion within the State Police in coming years. Does that mean I think they eventually will be adopted by MSP? It does not; I do not know the answer to that. What it means is that I think every large police department is going to have to discuss the options available in light of current technology and determine whether those options fit their mission and their funding. There will still be a cost factor involved, and the department’s priorities for resource allocation are not going to waver from those I described above – investigation and prevention of violent crime, crimes against children, motor vehicle crimes, drug, gun and human trafficking, gang activity and organized crime, etc.
In a larger sense, the Massachusetts State Police have a strong record of investigating our own members when they have been accused of misconduct or criminal behavior. That willingness to do so is what is most important, more important, even, than technology.
This reversal is great news, in my opinion. Considering it's possible for state troopers to receive repeated complaints about their behavior during traffic stops, but never have any of the complaints sustained, I think it's a great idea to Create objective video evidence of state police interactions with the public.