In a 19-page decision, Superior Court Justice Douglas Wilkins ruled today that the Commissioner of the Boston Police Department may institute a pilot program in which he will order 100 officers to wear body cameras, rejecting the police union’s request for an injunction barring the Commissioner’s action. The union had already agreed to a pilot program in which officers would volunteer, but objected when, after nobody volunteered, the Commissioner decided to make the program mandatory. Commissioner Evans had already instructed his command staff to begin wearing cameras.
As a policy matter, this strikes me as a very good thing. Body cameras are good for everyone – indeed, one of the reasons the Commissioner is so strongly in favor of implementing them is his conclusion that, in three recent shootings, video footage helped persuade the community that the officers were not to blame. Even the police union claims that both its leadership and its membership is in favor of them, but objects to the way this particular program was being implemented (they have argued that the lawsuit was about collective bargaining, not cameras … FWIW). There are contrary arguments (here’s one by jimc), but to me, the value of body cameras in documenting interactions with the public outweighs considerations going the other way. And the judge’s reasoning as to why this order was within Evans’ authority as Commissioner strikes me as pretty persuasive.
Unfortunately, the Globe editorial from this morning played a bit fast and loose with the facts in urging Justice Wilkins to reach the conclusion he did. The editorial, entitled “Boston union can’t have it both ways,” makes the following startling allegation:
the city’s lawyers revealed this week that the BPPA [the police union] didn’t fulfill its end of the deal. They produced photographic evidence that the union was encouraging its members not to sign up for the program. A notice posted to a bulletin board at a Hyde Park police station read in part: “The position of the BPPA is that NOBODY in the BPPA membership should volunteer for this program.” Another notice was just plain coercive: “Sanction any officer who volunteers.”
The BPPA can’t have it both ways —undercutting its bargain with the city one day, then going to court insisting on the sanctity of bargaining the next — but that’s what Patrick Rose, the union’s president, is trying to get away with.
That is at best a highly misleading recounting of what actually happened. A more accurate picture appears elsewhere in the Globe, in this timeline of events (italics added):
• July 12, 2016: After months of negotiating, the city announces it has reached an agreement for a volunteer body camera pilot program for 100 officers. Union president Patrick Rose applauds the deal. Officers are expected to wear the devices in August….
• July 26, 2016: Superintendent Kevin Buckley alerts Evans to a notice inside a Hyde Park police station discouraging officers from volunteering for the program. The notice was dated for June. Scrawled at the top of another notice dated for January said, “Sanction any officer who volunteers.”
• Aug. 2, 2016: Rose receives a call from the city that no officers have volunteered. He sends a note to membership stating that those interested should volunteer.
What actually happened, as is made even clearer in the judge’s decision (p. 5), is that the “nobody should volunteer” notice mentioned in the Globe editorial was from June (before the department and the union had agreed to a voluntary program), and urged members not to volunteer to wear body cameras until the pilot program had been bargained. Once the department and the union agreed to the voluntary program in July, the union president declared in a letter to the membership that it was “a great agreement.” Subsequently, when the outdated June notice was reported to have appeared in a Hyde Park police station, the union president sent out another statement (p. 7) saying that
[i]t has now come to the attention of the Union that some patrol officers may believe that the Union does not support officers volunteering for the program. This is not accurate. The Union believes it is important that this pilot program be voluntary and officers interested in volunteering should do so.
Unfortunately, the Globe editorial doesn’t tell you any of this. So anyone reading it who hadn’t followed the dispute in detail – like me, until I looked into it further – would read it to think that the union had been actively undercutting the very voluntary program that it had just agreed to. That does not appear to be the case, at least from the evidence that emerged at trial.
Now, to be sure, the judge criticized the union for its lackluster efforts to recruit volunteers once it had agreed to the pilot program. The opinion says that it “appears likely that, at a minimum, the BPPA has not conveyed a strong message of support for officers to volunteer for the [camera] program” (p. 7), and that “an injunction effectively rewarding the BPPA for its lackluster efforts to ensure the [voluntary program]’s successful implementation would be unjust.” (p. 19)
But lackluster efforts are not the same as actively undercutting the deal, and it’s the latter of which the Globe accuses the union leadership. I’m no big fan of police unions, but on this topic (or pretty much any other), you don’t help your side by playing loose with the facts. You just make yourself look bad. That’s what the Globe editorial page did today, IMHO.