A year-long body-worn camera pilot project has concluded the public and police officers support the use of cameras, but current technology must be sought to reduce costs and improve the reliability of the system.
The report is recommending the Service issue a non-binding Request for Proposals for companies to quote on a cost for cameras and information technology infrastructure, such as storage of the video, which must be kept for 11 years.
The pilot project, among 85 officers, found that the cameras used weren’t always reliable and did not have the battery life needed to withstand the robust needs of policing.
Inspector Mike Barsky, who led the pilot project, said the technology must be sound in order for body-worn cameras to have a positive effect on policing.
“Body-worn cameras can be a very positive tool if they are deployed properly,” said Barksy, of ensuring that the cameras do not fail, storage and retention is ironed out and officers have clear direction on when to record their interactions with the public. “This is not a panacea for all crime-related issues. It’s a tool to help reduce negative police/community interactions and increase the transparency of policing to the public.”
He said that, in the two years since the vendors were chosen for the pilot project, technology has evolved significantly.
At this point, the storage and infrastructure would cost, on average $8.5 million a year and $5 to $8 million for training, software and administrative staff salaries.
The community definitely saw value in having the cameras and felt they would reduce inappropriate behaviour by officers and the public
There is a suggestion that the price could be reduced drastically by the use of cloud storage and greater efficiencies offered by new technology – such as a reduction in time it takes to redact videos for release to the public.
“We believe, at this point, there would be a substantial savings with the use of new technology,” said Barsky, noting cloud storage was not offered solely in Canada at the start of the pilot project. “What was the reality in 2014 is not the same technology in place now.”
The community and officers largely found the use of cameras to be positive, noting it will may reduce community complaints, have a positive effect on how community members and officers treat each other and improve transparency.
Of the 45,000 surveys sent to the pilot project neighbourhoods before and after the pilot, 94% of respondents supported the use of cameras. (Over 17% responded, which is considered very high for a public survey).
Of the people surveyed who did have an interaction with police, whether investigated or arrested by an officer with a body-worn camera, 85% supported their use.
“The community definitely saw value in having the cameras and felt they would reduce inappropriate behaviour by officers and the public,” Barsky said.
Officers who were part of, and outside of, the pilot project, felt they would reduce community complaints and reduce confrontations between the public and the police.
They, however, said that witnesses would be less likely to talk to them and it reduced their discretion in making decisions on the job.
“I think that is a training issue that needs to be addressed. We don’t want the public to be uncomfortable speaking to officers and need to introduce their use appropriately,” said Barsky.
He said discretion is also an important facet of police work, noting that officers gave more tickets and fewer warnings for traffic-related offences during the pilot.
“That was not our intention, and we certainly can address that through training. Officers felt they would be criticized for using discretion when issuing a warning,” he said.
He said the cameras do give officers pause before speaking to someone during an investigation.
“They are better able to articulate the purpose for their interaction and that’s really important to an investigation,” he said.
Barsky noted that the Service is performing its due diligence before proceeding with the deployment of body-worn cameras, because of the costs as well as the risks to the reputation of the Service that faulty equipment could cause.
“If there is a negative incident and the camera fails, it can be interpreted by some people that the officers intentionally turned off the camera,” he said.
The Service has worked with the Information & Privacy Commission, the Ontario Human Rights Commission, the Ministry of the Attorney General and the Toronto Police Association, on issues of mutual interest, including a review of training and procedures.
He noted that many U.S. police agencies, who have deployed the cameras, are having issues with technology and governance of how they are used and have had to stop using them.
The only jurisdiction in Canada using them as standard equipment is the Amherstburg Police Service, with plans for Edmonton to deploy them in the future.
They have been also been tested in Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary and now in Montreal.
At the Board meeting, Deputy Chief Mike Federico said the use of cameras did not see a reduction in community complaints, however, the video was used in two instances to clear officers in Special Investigations Unit investigations as well as to resolve three community complaints.