Toronto: Police To Wear 100 BodyCams Beginning in December, 2014

Update: see previous posts – September 22, 2014 Toronto: Police To Wear 100 Body Cams By Year’s End, September 14, 2011 In-Car Video Cams – Toronto Police, August 30, 2011 Facial Recognition/Biometric Technology – Borders, Airports, Waterways, April 11, 2010 Automatic Licence Plate Recognition Technology (ALPR) Deployed on Toronto Highways, December 3, 2009 OPP begin using ALPR, March 18, 2009 Automatic Licence Plate Recognition (ALPR) in British Columbia, March 15, 2009 Lights, Cameras, Roll’em (April 2009 – Toronto).

 As early as mid-December, 100 mini-cameras will be affixed to uniforms of front-line police officers across Toronto.
As early as mid-December, 100 mini-cameras will be affixed to uniforms of front-line police officers across Toronto.

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TORONTO – As early as mid-December, 100 mini-cameras will be affixed to uniforms of front-line police officers across Toronto.

So far, the cameras are only part of a year-long Toronto Police pilot project. The service hasn’t yet picked the kinds of cameras its going to test.

Police have been using dashcams in their vehicles and unmarked vehicles since 2011. When police approach someone's vehicle, the camcorder is running and the officer is wearing a microphone that is on during his or her conversation with the occupant(s) of the vehicle.
Police have been using dashcams in their vehicles and unmarked vehicles since 2011. When police approach someone’s vehicle, the camcorder is running and the officer is wearing a microphone that is on during his or her conversation with the occupant(s) of the vehicle.

And while the service will get a chance to recommend body cameras in a report to the police services board in 2016, there is no absolute guarantee the technology will be well-suited for Toronto.

“We’re going to honestly evaluate these devices,” said Staff-Sgt. Michael Barksy, business manager for the Toronto project.

In October, the force is expected to meet with vendors and pick three different devices to test in four areas: 55 Division’s front-line primary response unit, 43 Division’s community response unit, a TAVIS rapid response team and traffic services.

“We could have it on a motorcycle officer or we could have it on a community response officer on a bicycle,” Barksy said.

Expected benefits include being able to provide best evidence to court, he added.

“It also gives confidence to our officers that, on those rare occasions when somebody alleges inappropriate action by the officer, the camera can simply be looked back at to reflect actually what happened,” Barksy noted.

All of the Toronto police crusiers pictured above, are all equipped with dashcams, which are constantly running, later downloaded to a computer.
All of the Toronto police crusiers pictured above, are all equipped with dashcams, which are constantly running, later downloaded to a computer.

Even temporarily introducing body cameras to cops comes with its fair share of headaches: Toronto Police have to draft policy on when the camera can turn on and off, how the data is collected and stored and who has access to it.

The public may not see storage capacity as a hurdle, Barksy said, but “there is a cost to that.”

Mike McCormack of the Toronto Police Association also shared concerns last month on officer privacy and whether body cameras are even the best use of police resources.

“We’ve been advocating for years for officers on the front line to have access to Tasers, for instance,” McCormack has said previously.

Barksy agreed it’s “unfair” to expect cops to be recorded 24/7 but said good policy will address those concerns.

“(When) an officer’s just having their lunch, or an officer’s having a conversation with their partner, is that an appropriate time to have this sort of technology activated?” he said. “I don’t think so and I don’t think our governance will suggest that for a moment.”

Presently, all Toronto Police vehicles are equipped with videocameras and police wear microphones. Now, police will wear bodycams, beginning in mid-December, 2014.
Presently, all Toronto Police vehicles are equipped with videocameras and police wear microphones. Now, police will wear bodycams, beginning in mid-December, 2014.

At first glance and in conversation with other police forces using the cameras, the immediate benefits seem to indicate the cameras – which can cost anywhere between $120 to $2,000 each – are worth it.

In 2013, Calgary Police Service tested lapel cameras on their officers for eight months, and found complaints were “very limited.”

“To my knowledge, I do not recall a complaint where the body worn camera was used,” CPS Supt. Kevin Stuart said.

That’s one reason why CPS is in the process of acquiring 550 body cameras for 1,000 front-line officers by the end of 2014.

As Toronto Police Officer monitors the speed of traffic, his unmarked cruiser is videotaping the area.
As Toronto Police Officer monitors the speed of traffic, his unmarked cruiser (parked in the laneway) is videotaping the area, through the dashcam.

There would be enough to equip any front-line cop on duty at any given time.

“When an officer goes into a public place right now, the officer is the only one that’s not videoing the situation,” Stuart explained. “Everybody else is. It’s important to get that evidence and show what the officer saw in a certain situation.”

In Sweet Home, Oregon – a city of about 10,000 – police Chief Jeff Lynn said body cameras have reduced “a lot of the he-said-she-said citizen complaints.”

“There were a lot of de-escalations, once people realized they were being recorded,” Lynn said.

His 14-officer department adopted cameras in 2011. While it’s a fraction of the size of Toronto’s police force, the basic concept remains the same, Lynn said.

“You’ve got to expect that you’re being recorded so you may as well be recording as well and documenting an unedited version of what transpired,” he said.

Recent cases of allegedly excessive use of force on both sides of the border have sparked questions of police transparency and accountability.

The 2012 fatal police shooting of Sammy Yatim in Toronto — captured on civilian cameras — led to loud protests and a murder charge against the officer involved.

More recently, Ferguson, Missouri erupted in riots after teenager Michael Brown was shot dead by a police officer.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association noted body cameras could be “an incredibly powerful tool for accountability.”

“We can point to numerous instances where videos of events and police use of force has been instrumental in getting cases to court,” said Abby Deshman, director of the CCLA public safety program.

But, serious concerns about the use of the cameras remain.

“If the police officers are the ones in unilateral control of when that tool turns on and off, there’s a real risk that it’s not actually going to be doing one of its core functions,” Deshman pointed out.

Paul McKenna – a lecturer at Dalhousie University who studies Canadian policing – said a study of body-worn cameras used in Rialto, California saw a “60% reduction in use of force incidents in one year” and an “88% reduction in citizen complaints.”

“That implies that there is some misbehaviour when they’re not being watched that will be remedied when they are being watched,” said McKenna.

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