By the end of the year, 100 Toronto police officers are expected to be sporting body-worn cameras as the force launches a one-year pilot project testing the increasingly popular — and at times, controversial — policing tool.
Major details are still being hammered out, including where the cameras will be worn, when the cameras will record, and what the final price tag will be, but the Toronto Police Service plans to equip officers in four areas of the city with cameras by mid-December, according to a Request for Proposals seeking a supplier for the cameras and software.
The pilot project comes after numerous reports and recommendations suggesting that the cameras, usually affixed to an officer’s lapel, glasses or police cap, could improve police accountability and reduce the use of force by officers.
“They have a moderating effect on both the police and the public,” Deputy Chief Peter Sloly said in an interview Monday. “They will protect good police officers and protect good citizens, and they will capture the bad conduct of citizens and the bad conduct of officers.”
But the president of the Toronto Police Association, Mike McCormack, says numerous concerns will need to addressed before rank-and-file officers get fully on board.
“We want to see sound policies around not only the implementation, but when are they going to be used, what about privacy rights for citizens, what about privacy rights for police officers, and what are we trying to capture with these lapel cameras?” McCormack said.
The 2012 Police and Community Engagement review (PACER) was the first Toronto report to recommend that police adopt body-worn cameras, a recommendation echoed in this summer’s review of police interactions with people in mental crisis, penned by retired Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci.
In his report, Iacobucci cited research indicating the cameras decrease complaints against police, “in part because police have an additional incentive to treat people respectfully, and also because individuals are deterred from bringing false allegations against police.”
Calls for body-worn cameras have increased amid the growing prevalence of citizen-shot video capturing police encounters, partly in the name of protecting police.
The high-profile shooting of teenager Sammy Yatim by a Toronto police officer — and the citizen-shot video that captured the killing, quickly uploaded to YouTube — demonstrated the need for video technology that can capture events from the officer’s perspective, argued Ian Scott, former director of the Special Investigations Unit, Ontario’s police watchdog.
“The policing community should respond by embracing video technology. It is already being used in in-car cameras, booking rooms and cellblocks, and should be expanded to lapel videos and Taser cameras. While video may not tell the entire story, it can often be the best evidence of an incident,” he wrote in an Op/Ed piece at the end of his tenure.
Among the biggest questions Toronto police have yet to answer is how to protect the privacy of both citizens and police officers. Christopher Schneider, a Wilfrid Laurier University associate professor who studies technology and policing, said the force will have to be exceedingly careful about where and when it records.
“If the police are phoned by someone who is a victim of a crime, and they respond, are the cameras then running? And it’s now running inside the home of, presumably, a victim of crime?”
McCormack had related questions about the privacy of officers, saying he’s hearing officer concerns that the cameras could be used as a kind of Big Brother surveillance.
“It’s our view that they can’t be used as a management tool. Because that takes away from the legitimacy of what they are trying to sell the public and the police officers on,” he said.
Since the release of the PACER report, Toronto police have been working closely with Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner to ensure that the privacy of officers and the public is respected, Sloly said. Among the questions still being discussed is how best to inform members of the public that they are on camera.
Toronto will not be the first Canadian police force to experiment with the technology. Calgary police launched a pilot in November 2012, and Edmonton, Ottawa, and Montreal are also testing cameras.
Officers in Rialto, Calif., were among the pioneers of body-worn cameras. A study by Cambridge University in Britain found an 88 per cent decline in the number of complaints against police, even though only half of the officers were wearing the cameras at any given time. Meanwhile, use of force by police decreased by 60 per cent; in cases where force was used, it was twice as likely if the officer wasn’t wearing a camera.
The cameras in Toronto will be distributed to officers in four areas of the city: the 43 Division (Scarborough) Community Response Unit, beat officers in the east end’s 55 Division, a selection of traffic enforcement officers and the Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy (TAVIS) team, a specialized team deployed to areas that need extra policing.
Greater police accountability was determined to be among the top ten priorities of 23,000 Toronto Star readers polled as part of the Big Ideas project, seeking innovative solutions to problems in the city.
In August — before Rob Ford (Open Rob Ford’s policard) dropped out of the mayoral race due to his cancer diagnosis — the Star asked the mayoral candidates if they supported body-worn cameras. John Tory and Olivia Chow both agreed they did; Rob Ford did not respond.