According to the Canadian government's own directory of contracts and purchases, the RCMP has just bought 24 body-worn cameras as part of a pilot project to have their officers armed with video capturing devices.
This is of course an incredibly timely move on behalf of our federal police service. The RCMP's plan has been in the works for a while—the contract awarded in mid-October, but only announced on November 28. Yesterday, the Obama administration declared that it's ready to put up over $260 million to get body-worn cameras onto American police officers to prevent a future Ferguson.
It appears that the RCMP has awarded four contracts to firms in Newfoundland, Alberta, Michigan, and Quebec. In the RCMP's words, the pilot project aims to "determine the feasibility of implementing Body Worn Video Cameras for front-line officers. A larger, competitive procurement may be conducted depending on the results of the feasibility study."
This pilot project apparently only requires 24 cameras, all of which will be delivered to the RCMP in Saskatchewan. It's unclear if the pilot project will be occurring in Saskatchewan specifically, or if equipment will be routed through the province's depot. The RCMP did not immediately respond to requests for comment from VICE about this project.
While it does not appear that all four firms are providing cameras, the required equipment to get this operation off the ground (including recording and monitoring gear, to start) would certainly require a multi-company approach. The company that the RCMP selected in Alberta, CruiserCam Inc., is the self-described "Canadian supplier of Patrol Witness in-car camera systems, DragonEye Speed Lidar systems, BodyCam and FLIR cameras."
Aside from its body-worn cameras, CruiserCam sells an entire police car rig. That rig swaps the rearview mirror out for an LCD display that provides an overlay allowing police officers to control the video being recorded in-car. It appears that the rearview mirror display can talk to mounted cameras in the car, which may allow officers to control when they record and what they record. A full PDF brochure of CruiserCam's in-car system is available here.
CruiserCam sold four cameras to the RCMP, and company president Danica Prpick told VICE that while Canada is lagging behind international policing surveillance trends, "it would be really beneficial for all of them to equip themselves with this kind of equipment.
"The benefit is, of course, to police officers for complaints against them, for safety. It's for enforcement so if something happens, they've got a record of it. And the record doesn't lie. [...] It holds people accountable. It holds police accountable."
The Toronto police are also on the lookout for a body-worn camera partner, and anecdotally, it does seem like police officers are at least curious about the technology. Some are more optimistic. One comment on the CruiserCam Facebook page reads, "This is what my department needs for us."
According to the company's testimonials page, they've been in business with Canadian law enforcement from as early as 2007. A note from the fleet coordinator of the Miramichi Police Force in Redcliff, Alberta reads: "Over a seven year period we gradually purchased additional camera systems from CruiserCam and currently all ten of our first response vehicles are camera equipped... [CruiserCam has provided] us with video recording products with the best service on the market."
While the influx of body-worn cameras is certainly a good thing, even though it's happening little by little in Canada, police officers and police departments will need to be responsible when it comes to setting rules about when these cameras can be turned off and how this footage must be stored. If police officers are able to deactivate the cameras at will and footage can be locked away from the public—or, worse, deleted—then the whole system will be for naught.
As Prpick of CruiserCam said, "the threat of carrying a weapon deters a lot of things from happening, but a body-worn camera can become a weapon too." It's important to use such a powerful tool with care.
This technology is opening up a new frontier for law enforcement that could be a huge win for society in general, but without the proper checks and balances, it might not be the improvement we are hoping for. As the story unfolds, we'll be covering it, and hopefully these added lenses will change policing in Canada for the better.