Body-Worn Cameras for Law Enforcement: Part of the Solution to Police Brutality?

The Current Status of Body Cameras in Massachusetts

As of July 2019, 9 law enforcement agencies in Massachusetts were using body-worn cameras, either through their own commitment or through a pilot program.

Unresolved Legal Issues with Body Cameras in Massachusetts

The Massachusetts legislature has not specifically addressed how body-worn cameras or the content they record interact with our statutes on two-party consent (generally required for recording someone) or public records (who should have access to the content- and to what content?).

Because the state has not taken action (outside of creating pilot programs) with respect to body-worn cameras, municipalities and law enforcement agencies have designed their own policies. The ACLU of Massachusetts in 2016 offered up a model policy for municipalities. At that time, the ACLU indicated that “body-worn camera programs. . . [should] follow three core principles: accountability, privacy, and transparency. Body cameras are not a panacea. But, if combined with good policies, they can build community trust and improve safety on both sides of the badge.”

Legislation Designed to Address Body Cameras in Massachusetts

This session, Representative Denise Provost filed a bill to establish a task force to develop a uniform code for police-worn body cameras and their recording. It accompanied a House study order on February 5, 2020.

We welcome your thoughts on to what extent requiring law enforcement officers to wear body cameras while on duty is worthwhile.

Anne Johnson Landry
Chief Counsel, Office of Senator Brownsberger

Published by Anne Johnson Landry

Anne works as Committee Counsel and Policy Advisor to Senator Brownsberger.

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1 Comment

  1. I think requiring law enforcement officers to wear body cameras is an important step in ensuring accountability for police in the commonwealth. Since police reports and police testimony carry a lot of weight, from mundane things like fender benders to serious things like court proceedings, there needs to be several methods of accountability to ensure that these reports and testimony are accurate. While not perfect, body cameras have provided a proven method of accountability in other cities and states across the country. In regards to recording, why not adopt guidelines from other two party consent states, such as Illinois? There, officers are required to notify people they talk to that they are recording and recordings are automatically deleted after 90 days unless flagged for things such as encounters (traffic stops, arrests, etc), all events where an officer discharges their firearm or when required by a court for evidence. In addition, the footage is generally not accessible via a FOIA request, with several exceptions including people who were in the video or if the officer discharged their firearm. I think this strikes a good balance between accessibility and privacy for all parties involved.

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