I am in favour of having police who patrol the streets wear body cameras.
As proponents of this measure explain, this not only can give an accurate picture of the arrest of a person suspected of committing a criminal act but also provides an area of protection for the officer in showing that the arrest was done by the book.
At the moment, Calgary is the only large police force in Canada with body cameras on all of its front-line officers. Roughly 1,100 officers have been wearing the cameras since last summer
However, they may be in use in Toronto by the fall and it appears Montreal will soon follow.
Montreal’s police service ran a pilot program in 2016-2017, but declined to move forward with the technology, which it estimated would cost $24 million a year. Recently, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante changed course and said the city would get body cameras for the service as soon as possible.
And at least one other police service, North Bay, is considering their use. North Bay is also planning to use dash cameras.
There is nothing in the works in Sault Ste. Marie at the moment.
“The Sault Police Service doesn’t have any plans at the moment to pursue the use of body cameras,” Lincoln Louttit, director of corporate communications, said in a telephone interview, adding that the service was not opposed to it.
He said the service looked into the use of body cameras in 2013-14 but it wasn’t really a pilot project and “didn’t work out for us at that time.”
The Sault Ste. Marie Police Service Board approved the purchase of 30 body cams at a cost of $1,000 each in November 2013.
Then Chief Bob Davies told the board the cameras could provide clear evidence in the investigation of several types of offences, ranging from roadside incidents to domestic incidents.
“This is a great solution in helping our police officers to record evidence,” he said.
Yet somehow the cameras fell into disuse.
In North Bay, a Postmedia story shows the police services board, the police chief and the North Bay Police Association are all in favour of the use of cameras, both body and dash, by officers.
One issue in the North Bay debate is whether body cameras will be on all the time, or whether they can be turned on and off by an officer.
The problem I see with allowing them to be turned off is that an officer may forget to turn them on when approaching a tricky situation. This could lead to accusations in some cases that the officer or officers did so wilfully.
The public certainly seems in favour of their use.
In Toronto, a petition calling for their use had 100,000 signatures and in Halifax, a much smaller centre, 70,000 signed on.
North Bay Police Chief Scott Tod says cameras provide transparency and accountability for officers and the public.
Police Services Board Chair Dennis O’Connor was quoted as saying cost was deemed prohibitive for a smaller force like North Bay’s when the issue was first studied several years ago but they have come down significantly. He suggested neighbouring services could share the costs.
He said while public attention has been focused on the issue since the May 25 death in Minneapolis of George Floyd, North Bay police have been studying the issue “for the last three years or so.”
Const. Aaron Northrup, president of the North Bay Police Association, says “Cameras are a great tool. They are good for citizens and police.”
“If an officer does something, it’s there,” and if a citizen complains unfairly about an officer’s conduct, it is also available.
Northrup says that over the years there have been numerous occasions when he would have welcomed a body camera, particularly when dealing with impaired drivers. In such cases, he says, the officer only has to download the footage which can be presented in court
In regard to the issue of whether the cameras will be on all the time, or whether they can be turned on and off by the officer,.he said units that are always on, or are turned on automatically when an officer leaves his or her cruiser, would be best.
“Cameras will help, but I think there is a lot of verbal interactions” that would benefit from a full-audio system as well,” he said.
I think most of us, despite the horrific events in the United States where police seem to be continuously and recklessly taking the lives of black men, still believe that the vast majority of officers are good men and women.
But something has to change and having police wear body cameras and enforcing their use, might make some of the racist, ornery and callous within their ranks take a second thought before inflicting abuse, which often leads to death.
The public up to this point have provided the footage of incidents of abuse that have led to the firing of many police and also charges being laid against them.
With the body cameras, some of this will go over to the police themselves, where it initially should be..
However, I am not suggesting the public stop filming. They provide a check, not available prior to the advent of cameras in cell phones, that I hope and trust will always be there.
I realize going this route is expensive as much more is involved than just the purchase of the cameras.
But I think it is a cost we have to be prepared to bear.