Toronto cops cruising down Yonge St. Not pictured: body-worn cameras. via Flickr user theghostofgraingertown.
After the controversial killing of 18-year old Sammy Yatim by the Toronto Police last summer, the discussion surrounding how police should react to distressed individuals has only continued to snowball.
Today, in response to a report published earlier this year by former Supreme Court judge Frank Iacobucci, which looked into the ways that cops can effectively approach “people in crisis,” along with a cosign from outgoing police chief Bill Blair in February, news broke that the Toronto Police service (TPS) has distributed a request for proposal (RFP) to find a private partner than can develop a body-worn camera system to be tested by a team of 100 police officers in the near future.
The RFP was announced today by the Toronto Police, but it appears as if the cops have been sniffing around for a corporate partner since early August—a search that was taken one-step further at an information session at Toronto Police headquarters on September 10th.
According to a statement published by the Toronto Police earlier today, the cameras could be on a small group of officers as early as November, with the target length of the project set at one-year. It’s not clear if the Toronto Police have awarded the body-worn camera project to a particular vendor yet, but the statement mentions that the designated police units who will be wearing the cameras volunteered “for the most part” to do so.
Staff Sergeant Mike Barsky is quoted as saying: “I think our officers understand that, in today’s environment, we have to be ahead of the curve. It’s been very clear from other agencies that use this technology that there is a great benefit, not just to a policing best-evidence standpoint, but also for the community to get a pure version of what evolves over the course of a radio call or a traffic stop.”
Body-worn cameras have already been proven to be quite effective in Southern California, where use of force by cops fell 60 percent, and complaints against police officers dropped 80 percent after body-worn cameras were implemented there. In a world where we’re all armed with HD cameras in our phones anyhow, and where police brutality—in such cases as Sammy Yatim’s—can and will be captured by civilians, it seems to be a natural progression for police to take matters into their own hands by equipping their officers with point of view camera technology.
Where the footage from these cameras will end up and the public’s access to it, however, is another matter altogether. These cameras, when they’re implemented, will add an indispensable amount of transparency to the actions of our police force, but without reasonable regulations to ensure the footage is handled properly, this could all be for naught. For example, if the Toronto Police are involved in another case where police use of force leads to public outrage, would the footage be locked up in legal embargos and publicity bans, away from the public eye?
In Iacobucci’s report, he addresses the need for these kinds of rules to be written as such: “[TPS and their privacy protocol] should address the appropriate methods of storage and length of retention of body camera recordings, limits to accessing and sharing this information, and mechanisms through which individuals recorded can request access to, and the deletion of, information stored by the TPS.”
One of the major considerations, too, is the control these officers will have over their own cameras. If an officer gets into a heated situation, is he or she able to simply disable their camera? Iacobucci’s report addresses this issue as well:
“The TPS should establish the scope of discretion for officers to disable recording, reporting measures to be taken when a camera is deactivated, and consequences of misusing that discretion. Examples include requiring officers to notify Communications Services of the reason for disabling a body camera and the duration of the deactivation, or requiring officers to file reports detailing any circumstances in which their body cameras were deactivated.”
Clearly there a lot of very important logistics to be worked out when it comes to implementing a new body-worn camera system, but it’s encouraging to see that a pilot project is already underway. Multiple emails to the TPS to see the full text of their RFP were not immediately responded to.
In addition to the Toronto Police, it seems as if the Saskatchewan RCMP is also in the market for some fancy new body-worn cameras. The Saskatchewan RCMP did not immediately respond to a request for comment about this, either, but if the Toronto Police pilot project goes well, one would hope it will kickstart a trend that will bring body-worn cameras to Canadian cops from coast to coast.
And if this is the new face of Canadian policing, hopefully cop-cameras come with reasonable rules surrounding if and when they can be disabled, how the footage is stored, who can watch said footage, and when (if ever) it’s appropriate to delete video from police archives.