The pilot project, which had 78 SPVM officers testing out ‘Axon Body 2’ cameras while on duty, resulted in close to 90% of the officers not approving of them, citing concerns such as ‘they were too heavy, expensive, had limited benefits’ and that ‘having to manually activate the camera in an emergency or in a dangerous situation presented an unnecessary logistical challenge’. The SPVM claimed officers spent ‘more time reviewing camera footage and adding information from it to their reports’ and that ‘it was time that could be spent on patrol’. A representative of Axon’s Communications team offered their perspective on some of the claims the SPVM made – using studies from other Police Departments who worked with them. Their results were in contrast to what the Montreal police found.
Included in the report the SPVM released on January 29th, they claimed the body cameras had ‘little impact on interventions’. Whereas Axon claims that a year-long study by Cambridge University on the Rialto Police Dept. in California (more than 400 officers) studied the effects on use-of-force when officers wore Axon Flex cameras. The study found a drop in use-of-force incidents by 59% and a reduction in complaints of 87.5%. As well, a 2017 study by Queensland Police Service (Australia) looked at the effects of BWCs (body worn cameras) being worn by officers responding to the scene of domestic and family violence incidents. The study found a 22% projected increase in reported results and a 60-70% decrease in police summary hearings. The Brisbane Times reported that Queensland police were cleared of assault and ‘several Queensland Police officers accused of attacking a man without cause at a party were exonerated thanks to body-worn camera footage’. Montreal police on the other hand ‘felt like they were being monitored’ and the cameras ‘de-personalize their interactions with citizens’.
The SPVM report also stated that outfitting all 3,000 patrol officers with the body cameras would cost $17.4 million over five years and deploying the cameras would create additional labour costs that would be around $20 million a year in order to hire 200 additional officers because of the time it takes to process all the information collected on video. Axon claims ‘the SPVM study was limited to two primary metrics: public perception and reduction in complaints against officers. Had the study measured the effectiveness of the tools associated with an Axon body-worn camera program such as real-time tagging, redaction and digital sharing of evidence to Crown, our belief is the conclusions around cost effectiveness would have been different. In regards to the proposed cost of rolling out a BWC program, SPVM cited the 5 year total cost of our highest tier payment plan, rather than the range of plans available to them. Additionally, there are programs we have in place that would represent a 5-year cost that is roughly one third of the amount cited in this study for the 3,000 officers at SPVM’.
The perspective and information Axon provides certainly does give one cause to raise an eyebrow – but to be fair, one could question whether Montreal Police officers have to deal with a population that is quite different than those of other cities and therefore different tactics are required to do so, as long as it is the realm of the law and respect.