Boston praised for releasing video in police killings

AP News
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Posted: Jun 18, 2015 2:17 PM

BOSTON (AP) — Police in Boston are earning praise from national law enforcement experts and community leaders for trying to be more transparent in the wake of officer-involved shootings, yet others say more can be done.

Authorities in Boston quickly released surveillance video in two recent shootings: After Boston police shot and killed a man who had shot an officer in the face during a traffic stop in March and again after deadly force was used earlier this month to subdue 26-year-old terror suspect police said lunged at them with a military-style knife.

Boston officials say their actions are an effort to be more accountable after a number of police-involved shootings across the country and the civil unrest that has often followed.

"It's clearly the direction departments are trying to go, to release as much information they have as quickly as they can," says Darrel Stephens, executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association and a former chief of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department in North Carolina.

The move comes as police departments and district attorneys look to balance the need to tamp down rumors and speculation that inflame community tensions with the need to protect the integrity of investigations and the jury selection process.

"With social media and the instant false information that tends to get put out, agencies are trying a new approach so that truth starts to emerge before rumors take over," says Richard Beary, president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police and police chief at the University of Central Florida in Orlando.

Civil rights groups say Boston's policy can still improve.

Matthew Segal, legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, says there needs to be a more defined protocol for how and when video is released, noting that some community leaders have questioned how Boston authorities select who gets to view the evidence.

Seneca Joyner, an organizer with Boston's chapter of the Black Lives Matter movement, dismisses the video release policy as an "elaborate performance" in which authorities first describe the video to media, then allow a hand-picked group of community leaders to view it and comment publicly before releasing it.

"This practice of poisoning the well of public opinion (and the grand jury pool) is an old one," she said via email.

Jake Wark, a spokesman for Suffolk County District Attorney's office, says release of video evidence is at the office's discretion and done on a case-by-case basis.

He said authorities first want to gather statements from witnesses untainted by what video might show. They also want to give the victim's family the opportunity to view it first.

The debate over how and when authorities release surveillance video also diverts attention from a critical transparency measure advocates say is long overdue in Boston and other cities: equipping police officers with body cameras.

Segun Idowu, who co-founded a local group pushing for the body cameras, says reliance on surveillance video puts police accountability at the mercy of video that can be low quality or, at worst, non-existent.

Terror suspect Usaamah Rahim's family and some Muslim and black community leaders have said blurry surveillance video of the June 2 shooting is "inconclusive" and does not resolve questions about whether police acted responsibly.

Boston police have said they are still weighing use of body cameras, though Commissioner William Evans and other city leaders have expressed concerns about compromising community relations and discouraging witnesses and informants from coming forward.