After years of negotiations, the agreement represents a collaborative breakthrough for policing transparency
SOMERVILLE, MA — After several years of negotiations, the City of Somerville and the Somerville Police Employees Association (SPEA) union, which represents Somerville patrol officers, have reached an agreement to implement body-worn cameras.
The agreement represents a collaborative breakthrough for policing transparency in Somerville and establishes Somerville as an early regional adopter of this important technology.
“I want to thank all involved who found a way forward with this critical tool for increasing transparency and accountability in policing. While no one reform alone will achieve our goals to re-envision policing in our community, body cameras are an important step forward as we continue to build on our police force’s deep commitment to transparent, procedurally just, and compassionate community policing,” said Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone.
After years of stalemate between the City and the Union on this topic, following community discussions in 2019 on SPD’s role at the “Straight Pride Parade” and counter-protests, the City placed renewed emphasis on reaching an agreement on body cameras. After the killing of George Floyd in May 2020, the implementation of body cameras was included in a list of ten priorities for police reform announced by the City in June 2020. Also that month, a City and Council joint resolution in support of body cameras for sworn officers was co-introduced by City Council President and Ward 1 Councilor Matt McLaughlin; Councilors At Large Wilfred N. Mbah, Mary Jo Rossetti, Kristen Strezo, and William A. White Jr.; Ward 5 Councilor Mark Niedergang; and the Mayor.
The agreement, which the Union ratified last week, allows for the full implementation of body cameras for patrol officers with certain exceptions based on best practices. In accordance with City ordinance, any body cameras used by the Somerville Police Department would not include facial recognition capability but would serve solely to document police actions. Negotiations continue for the potential deployment of body cameras for superior officers, who are represented by a separate union.
“Somerville has always led the way on policing, whether it be civilian review, de-escalating the war on drugs, Narcan administration, or supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. Body cameras are just one tool at our disposal to have accountability and protect the public,” said City Council President Matt McLaughlin.
The body camera measure is one component of the SPEA contract reached last week, which is subject to City Council appropriation of funds. If funded, procurement according to State purchasing guidelines will proceed for the required body camera hardware and software, and training of all officers in proper use would follow.
“The police administration’s hope is that this technology will enhance mutual respect and trust between our officers and the community while providing greater transparency into police operations,” said Interim Police Chief Charles Femino. “There is good evidence that body cameras can reduce the potential for police misconduct or excessive use of force while also reducing false accusations of police abuse, all of which supports public safety and procedural justice.”