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By February 20, 2015 Read More →

Body Cams for Cops Worth Considering


Ed. Note: This is a very supportive op-ed piece piece on body-worn cameras for law enforcement, written by Tom Brodbeck, a reporter from The Winnipeg Sun. We think it’s worth a read.

Cops, Crooks Should be Caught On Tape
The more I read about body-worn cameras for front-line police officers, the more I like the idea.

It’s a thorny debate that pits privacy rights against the need for greater openness and accountability in policing — both from cops and from members of the public.

It can be a messy tool if not used properly, including capturing sensitive witness testimony by people who may not want to be on camera. And there are a whole host of questions about how the data would be stored, who would have access to it, and under what circumstances it could be viewed.

It’s expensive, about $1 million to launch a six-month pilot project in Winnipeg to gauge its effectiveness. And the full cost of the program could run more than $2 million a year. At a time when the police budget has never been under more public scrutiny, that’s a tough sell right now.

However, Winnipeg police have budgeted the money to test body-worn cameras in a pilot project, expected in 2016. And it may be the only way to know for sure whether outfitting front-line police officers with cameras is the best use of policing dollars.

Police services across the country have already been testing the cameras, including in Toronto in the wake of the fatal shooting of Sammy Yatim, who was shot and hit by a Taser by police on an empty streetcar last summer. That may not be reason enough to test it here.

But the immense benefits that come from recording the interactions between police and members of the public may be.

Outfitting cops with cameras is a controversial idea, which is why some police unions—like the ones in Winnipeg and Toronto — have been cool to it, while others, like the Ottawa Police Association, have embraced it. Those opposed to it cite price and privacy issues as concerns. Those in favour of it say it gives cops protection they’ve never had before against false accusations of misconduct, as well as potentially valuable evidence in criminal cases.

The Ottawa police union calls it “perspective video”—footage from a police officer’s point of view—and a defence against the video that bangers on the street are taking of police officers these days, which often show up in edited form on social media like YouTube. What better way to discredit false allegations of police abuse than to have full videos of entire arrests, including the events leading up to them.

Of course, that accountability works both ways.

In a 2012 study done in Rialto, Calif., over a 12-month period where police were outfitted with body-worn cameras, the use of force among police officers dropped. During the pilot project, cops in some shifts were randomly selected to wear cameras while others did not.

In a comparative analysis of 6,776 video files, the study showed those wearing the cameras used less physical force and drew fewer public complaints than officers who didn’t wear the cameras.

“Shifts without cameras experienced twice as many incidents of use of force as shifts with cameras,” the study found.
The number of public complaints against police in Rialto — a community of about 100,000 people — dropped to three in 2012 from 28 the year before.

Of course, civilians interacting with camera-equipped cops knew they were being recorded, which likely affected their behaviour, too.

“Members of the public with whom the officers communicated were also aware of being videotaped and therefore were likely to be cognizant that they ought to act co-operatively,” the study found.

Either way, reducing police use of force and complaints against cops can only be a good thing.

It merits, at the very least, some serious consideration.

Tuckett can help navigate issue
The Winnipeg Police Board couldn’t have asked for a more qualified addition to its team when it comes to tackling controversial privacy issues as police get set to launch a pilot project that will see officers equipped with body-worn cameras.

Mayor Brian Bowman recently appointed former Manitoba ombudsman Barry Tuckett as vice-chair of the police board to replace outgoing Winnipeg lawyer and former Manitoba Liberal leader Paul Edwards.

Tuckett, Manitoba’s ombudsman from 1994 to 2004, not only investigated allegations of government wrongdoing as the province’s top watchdog, he was ombudsman when the province brought in new privacy legislation in 1998 as part of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. The act created a whole new area of independent policing for Tuckett’s office, which had to develop expertise in the area of privacy as it related to government operations.

That background should come in handy as the police board—which meets Friday—grapples with how to implement the body-worn camera program for front-line officers, while preserving the privacy rights of the public and members of the police service.

Posted in: Intel Report

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