A contract has been finalized that will put Springfield in line to be the first big city in Massachusetts with police officers wearing body cameras.
What has been called a “landmark” police contract was unanimously approved by the Springfield City Council at a special meeting earlier this week. It requires the city’s patrol officers to wear body cameras, to be equipped with and trained to use the opioid overdose antidote Narcan, and it compels newly hired cops to live in the city during their first 10 years on the police force.
City Council President Orlando Ramos called it a great deal. He and other councilors have long advocated for body cameras and a strict residency requirement.
" We are paying for what we asked for, so it is a good deal on our end," said Ramos.
Over the life of the four-year agreement, which is retroactive to July 1, 2016, salaries for patrol officers will go up by 13 percent. It will cost the city an additional $2 million this year alone just for the retroactive raises for the roughly 400 officers.
Another key concession at the bargaining table to the police officers’ union was the city agreeing to create a peer support program. Joe Gentile, president of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers Local 364, said officers will be trained to counsel fellow officers.
"Help them find help for whatever issue they are having regardless of whether is an on-duty or off-duty situation, they will try to point them in the right direction to get them the help they need before things get worse," explained Gentile.
He said the program recognizes that police officers are often reluctant to talk to civilian counselors. The Boston Police Department has had a peer support program for at least 20 years, according to Gentile.
"We had been pushing for it for a long time," said Gentile who has been union president for almost a decade. "So, we are very happy the city has agreed."
As for agreeing to wear body cameras, Gentile said the union bargaining team recognized the inevitability of the technology becoming a part of policing.
"There is a fear of the unkown and we have a little of that," said Gentile. "We worked really hard on the policy and the city was reasonable in working with us on the policy and for that reason we feel we'll be able to lead the way."
The contract lists situations when officers are required to activate their cameras to record.
It comes down to " good common sense," according to Police Commissioner John Barbieri. He said the cameras are to record anytime officers believe there is going to be an arrest, a disturbance, a search and if there is any use of force.
Officers will not be allowed to record video in a private home without consent unless an arrest is occurring or there is an emergency situation.
" Our goal is to have the community feel good about our use of the cameras and not feel as if we are invading their privacy," said Barbieri.
The contract states that footage recorded by the body worn cameras cannot be reviewed to identify people involved in lawful activities exercising their rights to free speech and protest. Additionally, the cameras will not have facial recognition technology.
"Our goal is to record police-citizen interaction and it is not to track citizens," said Barbieri.
Barbieri said there is no target date for when police officers will start wearing body cameras, and there is no final budget for the program.
The city will go through a procurement process to select a vendor, purchase equipment and train officers to use the cameras.