IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Massachusetts ACLU to Press Worcester for Body Cameras, Policies

The organization also plans to request an ordinance that would grant the public much more oversight over the department's use of the equipment.

(TNS) – WORCESTER, Mass. – The Central Massachusetts arm of the American Civil Liberties Union is planning to ask the city council to move forward with exploring body cameras for police and to consider mandating public oversight of police surveillance techniques.

Local ACLU field director Chris Robarge discussed the effort Thursday with a small group of volunteers. He said he's reached out to multiple city councilors and hopes to propose ordinances within the next couple months.

The city, Mr. Robarge noted, has yet to begin a pilot program for body cameras. He said now that Boston has decided to begin phasing in cameras following a pilot there, the time is ripe to press the issue in Worcester.

A Northeastern University study of the Boston pilot concluded cameras can improve trust with the public and provide evidence to ensure fairer results at trial.

The ACLU also plans to push an ordinance that would grant the public much more oversight over the department's use of surveillance equipment.

The idea – called Community Control Over Police Surveillance – or CCOPS, is being looked at in cities around the country, Mr. Robarge said, and has been adopted in Somerville.

CCOPS regulations require the police department to provide detailed reports on how they would use surveillance tools and whether civil rights could be violated as a result.

They require city councils to approve the purchase of surveillance equipment following public hearings. They also look to mandate that police file annual reports about their use of such equipment, among other requirements.

Mr. Robarge said the public doesn't know enough about how Worcester police use the army of cameras it monitors at its Real Time Crime Center. He also said he's concerned about the use of automatic license plate readers, which can scan license plates at extremely high rates.

In Worcester, such readers are located in fixed locations, Mr. Robarge said, such as north of Kelley Square and in Green Hill Park. He said he's worried about a reader located on Lincoln Street near AdCare out of privacy concerns for people who go there for treatment or AA meetings.

"We don't know what they use it for, we don't know how long they keep the data and we don't know who they share the data with," Mr. Robarge said. He said he would like to know, for instance, whether the department might share data with immigration officials.

Worcester does not call itself a sanctuary city, but leaders have repeatedly said that it does not collaborate with the federal government in efforts to deport people here illegally.

Mr. Robarge said if the city had CCOPS regulations, police would be required to explain how they use things like automated license plates readers.

Mr. Robarge said a policy would ensure the public knows about and has a chance to reject surveillance technology it finds too intrusive. If the department was to use things like drones, for example, there would need to be public debate.

The ACLU generally advocates against surveillance technology, arguing it is often used to keep tabs on activists – generally left-wing activists – for potentially political purposes.

Mr. Robarge noted that over the weekend, Massachusetts State Police were criticized for accidentally tweeting an image that showed it had placed a number of left-wing activist group websites on its bookmark list.

State police deleted the tweet and issued a statement saying they need to prepare for "all large, public gatherings."

Mr. Robarge said he was skeptical of that explanation, noting he didn't see any right-wing groups in the screenshot.

Mr. Robarge argued the episode is one of many that show the public needs to be aware of the ways in which the police are monitoring them.

©2018 Telegram & Gazette, Worcester, Mass. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.