Beyond the Badge: Windsor Police consider dash cams

The Windsor Police Service is at least considering the use of dashboard and body-worn video cameras for its cruisers and officers, respectively.

Video technology could cost millions but cut down on expense of frivolous complaints

The Toledo Police Department says dashboard cameras have helped dismissed five frivolous complaints against officers. (CBC News)

The Windsor Police Service is considering the use of dashboard and body-worn video cameras for its cruisers and officers, respectively.

Newly-hired chief, Al Frederick, told CBC News the use of such cameras was discussed at the department as recently as last week. He called it part of the department’s "Distant Technology Project."

"It’s an absolutely incredible tool. It provides almost indisputable evidence in court," Frederick said of video footage. "One of the major differences now compared to when I started 28 years ago is the availability of video. It’s benefit to policing."

It’s a benefit to the public, too.

"I think that it’s a step in the right direction for the police to increase accountability," said the University of Windsor’s John Deukmedjian, who specializes in policing, security and intelligence.

Deukmedjian said video helps when the police or suspect’s side is in question.

"It’s one more step toward increasing police accountability," Deukmedjian said.

Dash and body cameras are relatively new to Canada.

Edmonton police are testing the use of 'body' cameras to record arrests and other police work.

A small group of officers on regular and beat patrol will wear the video gear this month.

The tiny cameras, which become part of the officer's uniform, will help investigations and prosecutions, says Mary Stratton, project coordinator.

Edmonton police are now wearing body-mounted cameras the size of cellphones. (CBC )

"It is potentially an objective aid in resolving complaints that may protect both police officers and the public," she said.

The technology is new to Canada, so the project will examine privacy and other legal issues, said Supt. Ed Keller.

"This is a new technology, and we need to determine the possible benefits and issues involved in its application to police work," he said.

Deukmedjian said it’s not uncommon for Canada to lag behind technological advances in policing.

"Canada usually waits and sees ... how things work out. We’re usually a couple years behind other forces when it comes to these sorts of things," he said.

About an hour away, in Ohio, the Toledo Police department has been using cameras for more than two years.

Officers there wear a body pack for sound and the dashboard cameras can be activated through the body pack. They’re also designed to automatically activate if a patrol vehicle's speed goes above 128 km/hr.

The recorded video is downloaded to a server at police headquarters. It's deleted after a year in the cases of an uneventful traffic stops. In a criminal matter, though, the video is stored until the case is resolved.

"In this past year we were able to resolve one of our homicides based on a statement that was captured on video and audio pack," Sgt. James Cornell said.

Cornell also said video evidence captured by the cameras reduces the number of complaints against their officers. He said five complaints against the department last year were never officially filed because once police reviewed video, "they could see it was totally unfounded."

However, not all police are innocent.

"We did launch [one] investigation, and, unfortunately, we found that officer was not above board and as a matter of fact it led to his termination," Cornell said. "If I have an officer out there not doing things right or doing things illegally, I want to find that out, too."

Video does have its shortcomings.

Cornell is against using body cameras. He said, for example, victims of domestic abuse may not speak freely if they see a camera is recording them.

"People change when the camera is on," he said.

Dashboard cameras have different problems.

"The dashboard camera is fixed so it only gives you a particular field of view, a  particular point of view," Deukmedjian said. "That can be obfuscated; that can certainly not capture what is really going on.

"It’s not the solution to everything. They are limited in their use."

Video also expensive

In Edmonton, the pilot project is expected to cost more than $450,000 over three years. The cameras cost just less than $1,000 each.

The biggest cost is digital storage of the images.

Frederick said video monitoring of the Windsor Police holding cell is mandatory. When that was installed, it cost $1 million.

However, video evidence can also save a police department money.

Cornell said investigating complaints against Toledo Police takes two officers and 60 days to complete.

"For the most part, the way cameras are designed and the way we use them, it actually protects the officer than it hurts them," Cornell said. "The camera is not going to be a detriment to them, it’s only going to be an asset."