Body Worn Cameras Start Rolling

By Sara Faruqi, Toronto Police Service Published: 5:54 a.m. May 15, 2015
Updated: 7:25 a.m. May 15, 2015

In May, approximately 100 police officers will pilot three different types of body-worn cameras (BWCs).

Two men and one woman wearing TPS uniforms with small cameras on their chests standing on a staircase
Media Relations Constables Jenifferjit Sidhu, David Hopkinson and Victor Kwong wear the body-worn cameras being piloted by the Service

Starting May 18, the cameras will be worn by officers from the Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy Rapid Response Teams, 43 Division Community Response Unit, 55 Division Primary Response Unit and the Traffic Services Motor Squad.

External and internal reports, including the  PACER report that dealt with community engagement, and the  Police Encounters with People in Crisis report by Justice Iacobucci, recommended that body-worn technology be utilized for enhancing police transparency for all parties involved.

“This body-worn technology will give transparency to interactions that police have with the community, will build on, and strengthen, relationships we have with the community,” said Staff Sergeant Michael Barsky, the Operations lead for the project. In the lead-up to the project, all officers wearing BWCs are required to go through extensive training, including classroom theory sessions, dynamic scenarios and a day of mock trials using the video from their BWCs.

 “The training provides the officers with the legal tools, the skills of the technology and the insights required for a court of law. We are trying to build confidence and skill-sets so, when they do engage with the community using this very new technology, they can do so with confidence, that they can use it as part of their toolbox to provide best evidence to the courts,” said Barsky.

Body Worn Camera Pilot Project begins in four different units

“In going back to the station, and back to the field, I feel confident understanding when I can activate the body-worn camera and when not to activate it,” said Sergeant Phillip Handsor, of the 55 Division Primary Response Unit, who had just gone through the training.

“The training is very high-quality. They’ve answered all of our questions, they’ve set us at ease in doing the scenarios. The trial aspect of it really puts it in place so we understand where we are coming from, what our authorities are, and where we stand,” added Handsor.

All body-worn cameras are “on” when an officer is on duty, but they must be activated for the camera to start recording. The reason for this feature is because each activation of the recording allows the cameras to include the preceding 30 seconds to a minute. Barsky said this can be helpful in circumstances when an officer thinks the nature of interaction is becoming investigatory and needs to be recorded to give better context to the scenario.

Body-worn cameras are intended to capture the interaction between an officer and citizen.  They will be activated by officers as soon as reasonably possible, prior to arriving at a call for service or at the decision to initiate any investigative contact.   

“Investigative contact means any direct contact between a police officer and a member of the public where that contact is for the purpose of a police investigation.  This includes a range of circumstances, including calls for service, investigative detention, apprehension under the Mental Health Act, arrests, interactions with persons in crisis, crimes in progress, investigations, active criminals, and public disorder issues,” explained Area Field Staff Superintendent Tom Russell.

Russell added that cameras do not need to be activated when an officer is having an informal or casual conversation with a citizen, or one that doesn’t have an investigative element to it.

"Any time our officers, who are equipped with body-worn technology, have an occasion to investigate, they will activate their body-worn cameras,” said Barsky.


Three camera units on a  white background
Three cameras being tested during the pilot project

As far as public and private spaces, the officer is required to let the person they are speaking to know that they are being recorded. In public spaces, as with in-car cameras, recordings can be made without explicit consent – although officers have been trained to let the person know they are being recorded. However, for private spaces such as homes and businesses, an officer must get consent from the party before entering a home with a camera is activated. However, there are circumstances that allow officers to record in private spaces without explicit consent, explains Barsky. These are when executing a search warrant or under exigent circumstances.

The Service has worked closely with the Privacy Commission and the Human Rights Commission in preparation for the launch of the pilot project, as well as working with the Ministry of the Attorney General, according to Barsky. This is to ensure that the privacy of the public is protected.

 “It is very important we protect the privacy interests of the citizens of Toronto as well as consider the human rights issues that may arise,” explained Barsky, adding that the reason for the pilot is to iron out all these issues. “By having that continued dialogue, we can be alive to those issues and make sure that, if there are things that need to be changed or altered during the course of the project, we can achieve that.” 

Moreover, while the cameras are meant to enhance transparency and create high-quality evidence in court, they are still two-dimensional, which means an officer must use their memo book as before, as well as speak to the camera on what he is doing in case the camera is unable to capture everything.

“The officer, with his memo book, will enhance that two-dimensional view and provide the three dimensions of that. They will provide the senses of sight and hearing that perhaps wouldn’t be captured on the camera. The camera will not draw on the skills, knowledge and ability of the officer – that officer will draw on their own skills, knowledge and ability in order to make decisions during investigations.”

Close up of a camera and display on the chest of a TPS uniform
One of the body-worn cameras being tested by frontline officers
TPS crest watermark