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Should Montreal follow Toronto in wearing police body cameras?

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Police body cameras – Back in 2014, Toronto police held their first pilot program on ‘body-worn’ cameras. Fast forward to August 2020 and the Toronto Police Services Board (TPSB) have now approved of their use. The rollout of the cameras should see around 2350 officers wearing them by autumn of this year – with some police officers at the 23 Division already donning them since last week.

Deputy Chief Shawna Coxon of the TPSB said at a press conference, “They’re objective and record what’s going on in the moment from both sides.” However, they will not always be recording. The body cameras would be switched on when police officers are on their way to call, but they are possible situations ‘where it is appropriate to turn the camera off’.

“It’s highly contextual. We have to think about what’s happening in that moment. For those reasons there are times where an officer can turn the camera off,” she said and then explained about the legalities of when it is permissible to do so, such as in situations where children are involved, when a person is not dressed or when people do not want to be recorded – as it might be a ‘sensitive’ situation. If an officer turns off their camera without a valid reason, they will lose one day of work as a minimum penalty. If a supervisor is caught without their camera on, they will lose a minimum of two days’ work.

The cameras (from Axon Canada) and the program will cost $34 million over five years. It includes digital storage and the service for transferring video evidence to the courts. The majority of the cost is attributed to the cloud-based storage space – needed for the hundreds of hours of video generated by the cameras each day. As well, video recordings collected from the cameras will not be easily accessible to the public and access will depend on the ‘nature of every situation’. Axon reiterated that all footage gathered is heavily protected and that ‘the original ‘footage’ is always preserved, never modified. It is controlled by the agency and the agency can delegate access as they see fit.’’

The cameras are from Axon Canada, the same company Montreal police officer’s cameras came from during their pilot project during May of 2016 to April 2017. It had 78 SPVM officers testing out ‘Axon Body 2’ cameras while on duty, but 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. Should Montreal follow in Toronto’s footsteps and reconsider the use of body cameras for our police force?

By: Bonnie Wurst – info@mtltimes.ca

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