British Columbia

Vancouver police approved to wear body cameras by 2025

Vancouver council has approved a plan for all front-line police officers to wear body cameras within the next three years.

Rollout of the cameras was a key election promise of Vancouver Mayor Ken Sim

A close up picture of two Vancouver Police officers with jackets and walkie-talkies on their chests.
Members of the Vancouver Police Department are expected to be outfitted with body cameras by 2025. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Vancouver council has approved a plan for all front-line police officers to wear body cameras within the next three years.

Council passed the motion Monday night, instructing staff to see what the cameras will cost, including the price of data storage.

A similar project in Toronto has been estimated to cost $34 million.

The rollout of body cameras was a key election promise by Mayor Ken Sim's ABC Party and was supported by both the mayor and his councillors.

Vancouver's three non-ABC councillors voted against the motion, arguing there are concerns about the cost, effectiveness and impact body cameras have on the public.

Civil rights concerns

Body-worn cameras have been promoted as a way to decrease police violence and increase transparency in investigations and are supported by families of some who have died as a result of police brutality.

But Christopher Schneider, a professor of sociology at Brandon University who has studied the use of body cameras across Canada and other jurisdictions, said that's often not the case.

Schneider said while research in some places shows the use of force by police decreases once body cameras are adopted, there have also been instances of the use of force increasing, as well.

"The results are mixed, at best," he said.

There's a lot of promise for bodycams on Vancouver police officers. We speak with a sociologist who's studied the reality elsewhere in Canada, and other jurisdictions. And those experiences comes with warnings of potential pitfalls.

He also said transparency only works if the public has access to footage from body cameras rather than leaving the footage in the hands of police, who also decide when to turn body cameras on.

"They control the narrative," he said.

Meghan McDermott, the policy director for the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, has also expressed concern about the impact body cameras will have on the general public.

"What's really at stake here is our ability to be free without being recorded by the state. There's a real potential for people's private information to get recorded, to get sucked up into a server somewhere and then have extra technology layered on top of it, for instance, facial recognition technology," said McDermott.

"We also are very concerned about it having a chilling effect on people's willingness to protest or join a protest and what they may be willing to do in public spaces if there's a police officer there."

Schneider said if Vancouver does go forward with the body camera proposal, an independent oversight body should be created to make sure they are being used properly and for the public good.

Police watchdog believes body cameras would help

But ABC Coun. Lenny Zhou, who brought forward the motion, said he believes body cameras will improve public safety, accountability and transparency among police.

"This is an evidence-based approach," he said.

That viewpoint is shared by Ron MacDonald, the chief director of the Independent Investigations Office of B.C. (IIOBC), the civilian-led agency that investigates police incidents ending in serious injuries or death.

MacDonald has said in the past that he believes body cameras should become part of the police uniform after a report by IIO staff reviewed 71 investigations and found footage from cameras would have potentially helped resolve 93 per cent of those cases.

If implemented, the use of body cameras by VPD would be the first widespread adoption of the technology among front-line officers in B.C.

With files from Michelle Ghoussoub

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