The Worcester, Mass., police department could serve as Exhibit A in favor of body cameras for officers. Plagued by allegations that officers planted evidence, stole drug money and coerced sex in prostitution cases, the 450-officer department learned last November that it was facing a federal civil rights investigation like those launched in Minneapolis, Louisville, and most recently Memphis. Elected officials in Worcester had been trying for years to put a body camera program in place, and the Police Department ran a pilot that ended in 2020. Wen the city announced that the program would finally begin in earnest in February, the police unions balked, saying they wanted extra pay for wearing the recording devices. Worcester agreed to pay each rank-and-file officer an annual stipend of $1,300, and the city’s lawyer told the City Council’s 11 members that they were “legally obligated” to approve the payments, the New York Times reports.
At the vote in May, Etel Haxhiaj, one of three councilors who opposed the stipend, said it flew in the face of the accountability people were demanding. “I cannot imagine that when community members called for police transparency and justice, beyond body cams, that they envisioned that it would come with a reward.” The union in Worcester was not the only police labor group looking to leverage demands for accountability. In towns and cities across the U.S., police unions have been asking for pay bumps for body cameras, seeking to capitalize on the growing public expectation that every encounter with the police will be recorded. Officers in Las Vegas were among the first to win a raise that explicitly paid them to wear cameras, while unions in New York City, Seattle, Cincinnati and other cities have used body cameras as a bargaining chip in negotiations that led to significant raises. And more recently the police departments for Nassau County, N.Y., and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey agreed to $3,000 annual body camera bonuses.