After years of unnecessary deaths in its sister to the south, Canada has taken steps to prevent them. Kids have been dying in American streets now for too long. Killed by overzealous, or just plain wrong police officers. In Toronto, starting Monday, police will be wearing cameras on their body to prevent any potential harm coming to their citizens from the police.
It to me appears to be the natural next step in an era when surveillance cameras leer at you from buildings and citizens whip out smartphones to record police. This week, the Toronto Police Service will join the growing ranks of police forces adopting the latest law-enforcement technology when officers head out onto the streets, cameras rolling.
By the end of the month, 100 Toronto police officers citywide will be wearing the increasingly popular policing tool. This comes as part of a nearly yearlong pilot project that was a recommendation of the Toronto Police’s use-of-force review that followed the 2013 police shooting of teenager Sammy Yatim. It only took one death in Canada how is it possible that the United States of America are not already solving this problem?
The small recording device, which is attached high on the officers’ torso, near the lapel, has a big role to play in the future of the police force. This little camera has the job of increasing the public accountability of cops, enhance trust, provide an unbiased account of public interactions, improve officer and public safety, protect police from unwarranted allegations of misconduct, and more, as yet, unknown possibilities.
“I feel like it’s a very exciting project; I think this has the potential to strengthen the policing profession, and I think it has the potential to strengthen our relations with the community,” said Staff Supt. Tom Russell at a news conference unveiling the cameras to the cameras of the media on Friday.
Toronto police are following in the footsteps of forces in Vancouver, Edmonton, Thunder Bay, Hamilton and London that have already launched pilot projects experimenting with the police tool. The Calgary Police Service, one of the earliest adopters in Canada, has now moved past the trial stage and expanded the number of body cameras used by their officers from 50 during it’s trial period in 2013 to 1,100 today.
The lightning-fast expansion of the technology across Canada is not without its detractors though, a chorus of concern from privacy groups have been voiced. These groups are rightfully worried about everything from the tool being used as surveillance to potential privacy breaches inside private residences.
Russell, who is at the forefront of the body-worn camera project, has tried to reassure the public that Toronto police have carefully considered the privacy implications of the cameras, in consultation with Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner.
In cases where officers were invited into a private home, for instance, officers will turn off the camera if they are asked to. This is not true in the case of an emergency call inside a home or while police are executing a search warrant, then the camera stays on.
Police will similarly keep the cameras rolling during interactions on the streets, though the guidelines state that the citizens will be told they are being recorded as soon as “reasonably possible.”
Each officer is in control of turning their camera off and on, but Russell says the decision of what they can record and when to record has been clearly spelled out in the procedural information; this was done to make sure an officer does not simply record when he or she pleases.
Every time an officer responds to a call for service or is investigating an individual during the course of their duties, the cameras are to be activated. The record button is also to be pushed when an officer questions and documents someone who is not suspected of a crime, a police practice known as “carding.” Officers should not activate their cameras during an informal conversation with a citizen.
If an interaction with the public is not recorded when it should have been, the officer may be subject to a discipline process, this is a key point as if this was not in place these cameras would never be turned on during an altercation.
Before heading out onto the streets with the cameras, the officers participating in the programme received training at Toronto Police College, which included running through real-world scenarios ranging from a domestic-dispute call to an impaired-driving stop to a regular traffic stop. Officers also “took the stand” in mock trials using the video.
Const. Neil Robinson, with the Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy unit, said it may take some time for him and his colleagues to get used to the technology, but in many ways, the “bodycams” are nothing new.
“Officers like stability, they like the same thing, but overall it’s not going to change too much in how we do things,” he said. “When we’re in the community and people see us talking to somebody, there’s always another 10 people coming out with their cameras and recording us. So this is just another camera.”
Robinson said that having his own recording device is reassuring, since sometimes citizen video of police interactions may not capture the whole thing.
The cameras will be out in Toronto until the end of March 2016. The results of the experiment will be presented to the Toronto Police Services Board in June.