Frontline officers are expected to be testing body-worn cameras this year.
Although no details have yet been confirmed, Chief Bill Blair approved piloting the technology.
“It increases accountability but also legitimacy because it will capture the vast majority of people’s interactions with hard-working cops,” Deputy Chief Peter Sloly said. “It is as much to protect and promote their good work as it is to capture areas to be improved or outright misconduct.”
The 2013 Police and Community Engagement Review recommends the exploration of equipping all officers with body-worn cameras.
“It’s a demonstration that the PACER report is not gathering dust,” said Sloly, of the report that has 31 recommendations to improve community engagement.
Sloly said the pilot comes out of public expectations of police.
“It shows that when the technology advances and the needs of the community advance, we will do so as well.”
Cameras are not new to the Service. Booking rooms, cells and interview rooms have been monitored by cameras since the 1990s. The in-car camera system, which captures both video and audio of police interactions with the community, was placed in all cars in 2011. The cameras are capable of recording audio/video interactions between police and the public, including traffic stops and rear-seat prisoner transportation. The vehicles have two cameras, one facing out the windshield and one that captures the rear-seat area.
Staff Superintendent Tom Russell, who led the implementation of in-car cameras, is leading the new pilot project that will involve stakeholder groups including the Toronto Police Association, the Senior Officers Organization and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Ontario.
But there are still a lot of unknowns: how exactly does it fit into our IT? What are the costs? Which vendors can provide what software/hardware? What are the policy decisions?
“There are a lot of moving parts, from the Information Technology standpoint to the operational standpoint, to privacy and policy,” Sloly said, of ensuring the project is rolled out successfully. “But there are still a lot of unknowns: how exactly does it fit into our IT? What are the costs? Which vendors can provide what software/hardware? What are the policy decisions?”
Sloly said the majority of major cities in North America are at some point into their research or pilot project.
“We’re coming in at a good time because the space is still evolving and we can customize the needs to Toronto,” Sloly said. “But we’re not the first in the door so there are lots of lessons learned ,good and bad… We’re going to take the time to do it right.”
Feedback from police chiefs has shown that both the public and police officers have embraced the technology.
“The general research is the body-worn camera modifies the behaviour of the police officer and the member of the public – it’s a two-way street,” Sloly said, of the technology that lowers complaints against police and leads to less violence. “It is protecting their cops against malicious investigations, it modifies the behaviour of the person they’re dealing with, it provides best evidence in cases.”
Sloly said being on camera is a reality in 2014.
“I don’t think there is any officer within the Toronto Police Service who doesn’t realize that, when they come to work, they’re on camera. There are cameras in the booking halls, cameras in the cars, there are microphones on all the time. Every member of the public has a smartphone that can be activated, there is CCTV everywhere – this is just the information age.”
Police services across Canada have begun testing body-worn cameras. The Calgary Police Service has been piloting 50 cameras, at $1,200 each, since November 2012. They are activated when officers respond to calls for service or during an investigation. Over a 10-month period, they recorded over 2,700 videos. Over 30 were used in court proceedings and 13 resulted in early resolutions to the case.
The Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police Director of Government Relations and Communications Joe Couto said the Amherstburg Police Service has been piloting the cameras, but said there is no direction from the provincial government on the use of body-worn cameras or their funding.
“We know in talking to IT professionals that storing digital files of this nature can be a large investment,” Couto said. “We’re more than happy to talk about the technology and implications but there is no funding tied to them.”
He said it is an important discussion.
“There are way more questions than we have answers.”