Body-Worn Cameras Rolling Out

By Ron Fanfair, Toronto Police Service Published: 1:14 p.m. August 31, 2020
Updated: 2:36 p.m. August 31, 2020

Frontline Toronto Police officers are now being equipped with body-worn cameras.

A man in TPS uniform
Constable Michael Thomas is among the first officers to use a body-worn camera. All frontline officers will wear the technology by end of 2021.

The first permanent deployment started last week in North Etobicoke with 23 Division officers.

“We are excited about this program because we believe it will allow for increased transparency, accountability and a digital program that will allow for better efficiencies in terms of both officers time and the release of digital evidence,” said Deputy Chief Shawna Coxon at a media event to showcase the cameras on August 31.

“The cameras allow for increased accountability because they are objective, they record what is happening in the moment on both sides and this allows us to see what an officer is going through… At the end of the day, it’s an objective measure to show what happens,” said Deputy Coxon, noting there has been overwhelming public support for their use.

Const. Michael Thomas, who joined the Service 15 years ago, is among frontline officers at 23 Division who have been using the body-worn cameras since the program was rolled out last week.

“Before we get to a call, we turn it on and it runs for the entire interaction that we have until the investigation is completed,” he said. “It’s comfortable and easy to use. You tap it twice and you hear a beep which means it is activated. Every minute or two, you hear a beep telling you the camera is still running.”

Officers will have the body-worn camera in plain view and the camera has lights and notices indicating it has been activated. Officers are trained to give notice as soon as reasonably possible that a body-worn camera is in operation. 

A police officer will turn on the body-worn camera prior to arriving at a call for service, when they start investigating an individual or when they are asking a person questions for the purpose of collecting their information.

An officer will turn off the camera when the call for service or investigation is complete or when the officer determines that continuous recording is no longer serving its intended purpose.

Media launch of body-worn camera program at 23 Division

The only time a request to turn off a camera will be actioned is when a police officer has been given permission to enter a private home and the person granting permission makes the request. This can occur before the officer enters the residence or at any time during the officer’s presence in the home.

Officers will be trained to be aware of interactions with the public that may be sensitive such as when children are present, during a sexual assault or domestic violence investigation or when a person is in a state of undress. Body-worn cameras will typically not be used in hospitals, places of worship, schools etc. Recording in private locations is only permitted in exigent circumstances.

Recordings are encrypted when captured and cannot be edited, altered or deleted from the camera; secure and encrypted uploading is done from the camera to storage; security authentication steps are in place to ensure only those with authorized access can view recordings once uploaded and there are automatic purging of videos based on established retention schedules and redaction abilities for recordings required for disclosure purposes.

At the end of every shift, a police officer will take their body-worn camera and dock it at one the porting stations in their unit/division. Once docked, the data will automatically be uploaded and stored in a Canadian-based cloud system.

If an officers fails to follow procedures, complaints can be lodged with the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) like in any other allegation of misconduct. Once investigated, officers may face any number of disciplinary actions, up to and including dismissal.

“We know that only proper use of body cameras will enhance public trust and legitimacy while improper use will have the opposite, detrimental effect on police/community relations,” said Coxon. “As a result, any officer found to be in non-compliance with the procedure will face a minimum penalty of eight hours lost pay. This penalty increases to a minimum 16 hours of lost pay for supervisors who are found in non-compliance.”

The cameras will be deployed to 12 Division in October and it’s anticipated that all Divisions will be equipped with the cameras by October 2021, with a total of 2,350 across the city.

The research into body-worn cameras started in February 2014 with retired S/Supt. Tom Russell as the project lead.

Supt. Mike Barsky, was an integral part of the project for the last six-and-a half years.

A woman in TPS uniform with several people in background
Deputy Shawna Coxon in an image recorded on a body-worn camera

“We really wanted to make sure that we did it right,” he said. “We had a big benefit in that S/Supt. Russell was in charge of this and he had gone through the in-car camera. We had a great foundation for what we were going to do. When we built relationships with the Information and Privacy Commission, the Ministry of the Attorney General, the Special Investigations Unit, the OIPRD and even the Human Rights Commission, we had these conversations because understanding and appreciating their sense of this was as important to us when we built our procedure. To have an operating procedure that didn’t speak to that, we thought will be foolish to do.

“When we looked at what people did in other jurisdictions, we really found we had a good foundation. But when we ran our pilot back in 2015, the technology just wasn’t there at that point. The batteries wouldn’t last for a 10 or 12-hour shift and we were losing some videos. We would have been wrong if we were to put a camera on our officers and it failed.”

There were 18 vendors that solicited proposals.

“We had so much information that we were able to forego the request for pre-qualification and go right to the RFP (Request for Proposal) where five vendors came forward at that stage,” added Barsky. “We were able to come out today with who we believe is the best of the best.”

Axon Canada is providing a complete solution that includes hardware, software, storage, training and ongoing support for the program. The total cost is $34 million for five years, including an option for an additional year.

It's anticipated the technology can be harnessed to lesson the need for paper records and notes and make it easier to share video evidence with the court system saving time and money.

Learn more on the TPS Body-Worn Cameras webpage

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