Frontline officers could be equipped with body-worn cameras as early as November as part of a one-year pilot project.
A Request for Proposal (RFP) was sent out to potential suppliers to submit business proposals.
“The Toronto Police Service is not alone. Around the world, there has been interest among law enforcement agencies to explore body-worn cameras. This is a real opportunity for us to test the equipment and find technology that meets the needs of our Service,” said Staff Superintendent Tom Russell, project lead for the Body-Worn Camera Pilot. “Our project is well underway with representatives from all pillars on our working group. Once a vendor or vendors are chosen, we will have 100 cameras distributed to four different locations across the city for one year. This will truly give us a sense of what works and what doesn’t for our officers.”
Feedback from police chiefs has shown that both the public and police officers have embraced the technology, said Deputy Chief Peter Sloly.
“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.”
The pilot project was called for by Chief Bill Blair in February as one of the recommendations in the Service’s Policing And Community Engagement Review.
Police Encounters With People In Crisis, an independent report by former Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci released in late July, also recommended a pilot project on the use of body-worn cameras.
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.
Staff Sergeant Mike Barsky, of Community Safety Command, said three devices will be tested as part of the project.
“We want to evaluate a number of things with the cameras and the vendors themselves. We will like to know that the cameras have those requirements that our officers have asked for,” he said.
From a Service perspective, Barsky said there are several factors that will be taken into consideration to determine which device will suit Canada’s largest municipal police organization’s needs.
“They have to be easy to use so that, when officers engage the community, go to a radio call or are investigating something, the system has to be user-friendly as far as the on/off mechanism,” he said. “Things like night-time vision, the clarity of the video and durability of the product are important. We need to know if the device will withstand cold, heat and rain because it’s going to be exposed when officers are out in those environments.
“At the end of the day, our objective is to look at what we get back from these companies to see if the technology is in line with what we want.”
Barsky said cost will be a consideration in identifying the best technology for the Service.
“I think it’s important, first and foremost, that we have the right technology,” he said. “Once we have that, then we can make the determination.”
Beyond the cost of the cameras, the storage of video files and the disclosure of this evidence in court has to be considered as part of the cost.
The areas of the Service identified for the pilot project are 43 Division Community Response Unit (CRU), 55 Division Primary Response Unit (PRU), a section of the TAVIS Rapid Response Team and an area of Traffic Services that’s yet to be identified.
“We think that those four entities will give us a good cross-section throughout the city of all types of frontline policing,” said Barsky. “The TAVIS Rapid Response Team is throughout the city and they will get a snapshot of everything that goes on in every Division, not unlike Traffic Services, which are also throughout the city. 43 and 55 Divisions will be more focused on the roles they play within their Divisions. The CRU interacts directly with the community and the PRU deals with all of those calls for service that we have from a Divisional policing aspect.”
I think it’s important, first and foremost, that we have the right technology
Barsky said the selected units are excited to try the technology.
“The units we selected, for the most part, asked to be part of this,” he said. “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.”
Barsky is in charge of the operational aspect of the project, including ensuring all stakeholders are at the table, including outside agencies such as the Ontario Human Rights Commission, the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario and the Ministry of the Attorney General.
“They all have very different ideas and thoughts on how this technology will work and how it will work in a policing environment. So we have to consider those things.”