Toronto: Police Shouldn’t Record Informal Contacts with Body Cameras

Update: see previous post – May 5, 2015 We were wrong, Toronto police say: Body cameras will record ‘carding’

Toronto Police Headquarters. “Placing a requirement upon officers to record all non-arrest, non-detention, informal interactions with members of the community has the potential to erect barriers between police and the community,” Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders writes.
Toronto Police Headquarters. “Placing a requirement upon officers to record all non-arrest, non-detention, informal interactions with members of the community has the potential to erect barriers between police and the community,” Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders writes.

Toronto officers using their body-worn cameras during informal, non-arrest interactions would “completely disrupt” the force’s year-long trial of the technology, says Chief Mark Saunders.

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If Toronto police officers began switching on their body-worn cameras during informal interactions with the public, it would “completely disrupt” the force’s nearly year-long trial of the popular policing technology, turning it into “something very different and problematic,” according to Toronto police chief Mark Saunders.

Currently, rather than running at all times, the cameras are only activated by the officers under certain circumstances, including when making an arrest, answering to calls for service, responding to a crime in progress and more.

At his final Toronto Police Board meeting in July, former board chair Alok Mukherjee raised his concerns with the force’s current pilot project, which began in May with just under 100 police officers from across the city wearing cameras on their lapel.

But Mukherjee said the current setup does did not adequately respond to recommendations from previous reports on police interactions with the public — including a recent review by retired Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci — which called for body cameras to record more informal interaction, including non-arrest and non-detention situations.

This is a photo of a "body camera" that 100 police are now wearing in a 12 month pilot project. 100 officers have been pre-selected from the TAVIS Rapid Response Teams, Traffic Services, 55 Division Primary Response Unit and 43 Division Community Response Unit. The cameras won't be on all the time and police will be able to turn them on and off as they see fit.
This is a photo of a “body camera” that 100 police are now wearing in a 12 month pilot project. 100 officers have been pre-selected from the TAVIS Rapid Response Teams, Traffic Services, 55 Division Primary Response Unit and 43 Division Community Response Unit. The cameras won’t be on all the time and police will be able to turn them on and off as they see fit.

The way the body camera activation works currently “will result in the exclusion of a very substantial proportion of police community interactions,” Mukherjee said in a July letter to the board.

“My concern is that the scope of the pilot may not be consistent with the recommendations that are at the heart of the pilot as originally conceived or recommended. This is a significant lacuna,” he wrote.

But in a report to the board in advance of its meeting next week, Saunders disagrees, saying there are no gaps between the goals for body-worn cameras as outlined in past reports and the current project.

While Iacobucci’s report contains many recommendations supporting the use of body cameras, none specifically state that officers should film non-arrest and non-detention situations, Saunders writes.

Further, if officers begin filming informal interactions with the public, it could negatively impact the project in several ways, ranging from cost to offsetting the balance between the needs of law enforcement and privacy rights, Saunders said.

It could also harm public trust, he said.

If Toronto police officers began switching on their body-worn cameras during informal interactions with the public, it would “completely disrupt” the force’s nearly year-long trial of the popular policing technology, turning it into “something very different and problematic,” according to Toronto police chief Mark Saunders.
If Toronto police officers began switching on their body-worn cameras during informal interactions with the public, it would “completely disrupt” the force’s nearly year-long trial of the popular policing technology, turning it into “something very different and problematic,” according to Toronto police chief Mark Saunders.

“Placing a requirement upon officers to record all non-arrest, non-detention, informal interactions with members of the community has the potential to erect barriers between police and the community,” Saunders writes.

Brian Beamish, Ontario’s information and privacy commissioner, echoed Saunders’ concerns about privacy in a letter to the board.

“It is not clear that recording informal interactions is necessary for any law enforcement purpose, including the purpose of enhancing police accountability, bias-free policing and public trust. On the other hand, it is clear that recording all such encounters would have a significant impact on personal privacy,” Beamish wrote.

Mukherjee had also asked Saunders to provide an update on the status of the body-worn camera project every month. Saunders said he will do so on a quarterly basis, to allow for more data collection and provide a more comprehensive report.

The Toronto police services board meets next Thursday.

Support for body-worn cameras

After launching its body-worn camera pilot project in May, Toronto police posted an online survey asking for feedback on the force’s use of the increasingly popular policing tool.

The online response as of the end of August showed strong support for body cams, though Toronto police did not include how many people were polled.

Here’s the response when asked: “to what extent do you support the idea of Toronto police having body-worn cameras?

Strongly support: 55 per cent

Support: 25 per cent

Do not support: 6 per cent

Have no opinion: 4 per cent

Strongly do not support: 7 per cent

Have no opinion: 4 per cent

Do not know: 3 per cent

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