Smile, you’re on police body camera

By Gerald V. Paul

Toronto Police are testing body cameras on 100 officers over the next 12 months.
Toronto Police are testing body cameras on 100 officers over the next 12 months.

A pilot project to outfit 100 Toronto Police officers with body cameras was officially rolled out last Monday with many questions still to be answered.

Police cameras will have to be carefully studied and regulated, the force and police board agree.

“I’m happy with what we are doing with the pilot project,” Mayor John Tory told the media following the recent meeting of Toronto Police Services Board.

“We have to make sure we ask a lot of questions now so we have the right information at the time the pilot project is over in a year from now and then the right basis upon which to judge this.”

He emphasized privacy concerns and the importance of transparency.

“It’s very important the public know what’s going on here in the pilot project,” Tory said.

Part of the year-long testing will include three months of ‘scenario-based’ testing at the police college before the equipment is used on the streets.

The police see body-worn cameras as unbiased, reliable eyewitnesses to their community interactions. The hope is that they will provide reassurance to community members and police officers.

The project involves outfitting officers from four police units – 43 and 55 Divisions, traffic services and Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy rapid response -with camera equipment to test.

At the end of the 12 months, Toronto Police will analyze the effectiveness of the project and recommendations will be presented to Mark Saunders, the new chief who was officially sworn in Wednesday.

The camera will be activated whenever there is a call for service or someone is being investigated. Informal conversations with citizens and interactions without an investigative element will not require activation of the cameras.

Officers have been trained on privacy and human rights issues and will have to tell people when the cameras are rolling in most situations.

The project with a budget of $500,000 will store encrypted video from body-–worn cameras on a police server for a year, unless it is needed for a longer period of time.

In private spaces, such as homes and businesses, an office needs consent in most situations before activating a camera. But officers executing a search warrant or those in ‘exigent’ circumstances will be allowed to record in private spaces without consent.

Former Supreme Court justice Frank Jacobucci has called for officers to wear body-mounted cameras. Several Canadian forces have conducted trials, including police in Calgary. Cameras are already in use in some U.S. jurisdictions.

The Police and Community Engagement Review (PACER) report’s recommendation #11 stated: “That the service continue to leverage and monitor the In-Camera System currently installed in all marked police vehicles, as well as explore the possibility of equipping all uniform Officers with Body Worn Video (Body Camera).”

Gerald V. Paul
Gerald V. Paul