In the wake of nationwide protests against policing tactics, Revere Police Chief Joe Cafarelli said he would be amenable to having officers wear body cameras, but he said a more lasting change would probably be to put programs in place that break the ice between the cops and the community.
“With the cameras, it’s all about funding and you get what you pay for,” he said this past Saturday in an interview with the Journal. “I’d rather take that money and put it to community programs where people meet the officers in their neighborhoods. The police so many times have become this faceless and nameless entity. You’re just the police. However, if you’re an officer and I know you as Joe with a family and kids, then everything changes. We put up this wall as well. There is a culture in the police that puts up this wall and this hard-nosed facade, sometimes for good reason and sometimes not. I’d like to see more officers out in the community.
“That’s what I’ve been trying to do as chief,” he continued. “That’s why I try to attend as many community events as I can or drop in on neighborhood watch meetings. In the end, the police department is made up of human beings. We need to let people know that. Officers have a conscience and they have families and they have fears. We’re not infallible and we do our best and our training dictates that.”
In the wake of the Ferguson and Staten Island Grand Jury decisions, Cafarelli said the Revere Police have been taking assessments of how their relations are in the community.
He said based on informal conversations with community groups and individuals, he feels the RPD is on solid ground with the community. However, he said things can get better.
One idea that he has is to hold more ‘Coffee with a Cop’ sessions citywide. Those programs are becoming more common in the area – with Chelsea Police holding one last week in that city – and entail police officers meeting and talking informally with residents who drop in over a two-hour period.
“One of the things we want to do more of, and that we’re doing informally right now, is that coffee with a cop,” he said. “It’s great to have people having conversations with the person patrolling their neighborhood. I want to encourage more of that and get more of my guys participating. I want to encourage people to talk to police officers as human beings in that kind of environment. It’s important we have support for the police. Nobody goes out one day to try hurt somebody or kill somebody or get away with killing somebody.”
That said, Cafarelli said he believes there is a place for technology as well. Perhaps, he said, there is room for both methods in 21st Century policing.
“Technology has grown in leaps and bounds in my career alone,” he said. “Sooner or later, you have to embrace it; it is progress. I think [cameras] are a good thing, but I want to see more input from the Department of Justice…Coincidentally, cameras are something we’ve been looking into already off and on over the years. I’ve looked into them at conferences with several vendors. They’re like anything else; you get what you pay for. The best systems are expensive systems.”
Body cameras for police officers have become all the rage over the last several months as the family members of Michael Brown – the young man shot and killed by a Ferguson, MO police officer – have called repeatedly for them. Last week, President Barack Obama also advocated for police officers to utilize body cameras for the sake of accountability.
Cafarelli said he can see where they would be useful to the police, because he believes they would help back up police actions and more easily justify the use of force.
“Personally, as a law enforcement professional, based on the research I’ve done, it really is an added benefit for police,” he said. “Statistically, 90 percent of the time officers are exonerated. There are 5 percent that are inconclusive and 5 percent of incidents where officers have been found negligent in some way. That’s a 95 percent exoneration rate and so it could be in our best interest. The trouble with any presidential mandate is funding. It’s more than just buying the hardware.”
Therein lies the difficulty in the process.
Cafarelli said he has looked at one system that he is not keen on. That system requires the officer to activate the camera and it runs on 25 second intervals. The officer has to turn it back on after 25 seconds if he or she wants it to continue.
“It’s up to the officer to continue to activate it,” he said. “There’s clear room to have reasonable doubt when the camera is off. What’s happening in those five seconds? Did the officer turn it off on purpose? It creates a lot of reasonable doubt in testimony.”
Another major concern is preserving the video through normal record-keeping protocols, which Cafarelli said would likely require another officer or employee.
“I could foresee having to assign an officer or civilian as a full-time custodian over all that evidence and technology,” he said. “You’ll get requests from the DA and from defense counsel and others. Just think how many hours you have to preserve in evidence; all those officers and all those hours of video.”
The complications and snags in introducing that technology into the Revere Police are still real, and Cafarelli said they will continue looking at how to implement cameras seamlessly.
Until that time, he said officers – such as himself – are looking internally at all that’s going on. He said any incident – whether Ferguson, Staten Island or even 9/11 – causes a police officer to do a self-evaluation.
“Anytime there is something out there that reflects on the police, you wonder what people say and what they’re thinking,” he said. “Are they lumping you in with another person’s transgressions. Do people think of me that way? Am I painted with the same broad brush? It’s up to us to get out there and really break the mold of the faceless, nameless police officer.”