Toronto police officers may soon be wearing lapel-mounted cameras in a pilot project that’s being touted as a way toward greater transparency by some and met with concern by others.
Toronto Police Association president Mike McCormack told CBC’s Metro Morning today the union wants to make sure there is real value in the project before endorsing it.
“What are we trying to capture here? That is the conversation we need to have before we endorse the project in any way,” McCormack said, adding that a full cost-benefit analysis must be completed before its worth is seen.
There are many variables with the installation of the cameras — smartphone-sized devices attached to the lapels of an officer’s uniform — including expense and data storage.
The project was recommended by a 2013 police and community engagement review that expressed concern about bias in police checks and interaction with the public.
Last week’s inquest into the deaths of three mentally ill people shot by police also contributed to the project’s green light.
The deaths of Reyal Jardine-Douglas Sylvia Klibingaitis and Michael Eligon were ruled homicides. Each was holding a sharp object when they were shot by police.
The report said the cameras would benefit both the public and police by holding all accountable with additional evidence, and suggests a test-run of the project could be in place by mid-2014.
Dep. Chief Peter Sloly said the project is still in the research phase, with a pilot project potentially starting in the second half of this year. He said there will have to be a consultation process involving community members and other stakeholders, and that full implementation of lapel cameras is "a long way down the road."
However, Sloly said, previous research into body-worn cameras suggests they can help modify behaviour of both officers and members of the public, leading to fewer complaints.
"Community members are more civil, respectful, less violent, less aggressive toward the officers," Sloly said. "And the officer, knowing that the entire incident is being captured, it raises their level of professionalism and their communication."
Adam Nobody, a G20 protester who was hit with a baton by a Toronto police officer in 2010, said he supports implementing lapel cameras, adding video evidence shot on cellphones played a large role in the officer's assault conviction.
"If you have nothing to hide, then why not have a body camera if you're a police officer?" he told CBC News. "It'll help the police service as well, and it will help the civilian population against assaults or attacks or anything like that."
But McCormack said any benefits would have to weighed against other considerations, such as privacy.
"What are the cameras going to be used for? When will they be activated? What is the public's privacy interest when you're a victim of a crime and a police officer is showing up and videotaping you? There's a lot of stuff we need to flesh out," McCormack said.
The union plans to meet with top police officials in the next few weeks to discuss the lapel cameras.
In a 2013 interview with CBC News, Paul Cook, the president of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police, said video evidence offers "the opportunity to protect officers from false allegations of misconduct, and also provide us with the opportunity to hold our officers accountable if there was misconduct."
The big disadvantage, he added, is the cost of purchasing the technology and maintaining i, a concern shared by McCormack.
“Everything comes down to cost issues, unfortunately," McCormack said. "That’s the reality when you are dealing with taxpayers' dollars.”