Criminal lawyers call for cameras in Edmonton police vehicles

An Alberta association of lawyers is urging Edmonton police Chief Rod Knecht to put video cameras in patrol vehicles.

Lawyers' group pushes police chief to catch up, install patrol car video cameras

Video cameras in Edmonton patrol vehicles will help clear allegations by or against officers, lawyers argue. (CBC)

A criminal lawyers' group is urging Edmonton police Chief Rod Knecht to put video cameras in patrol vehicles.

In an Oct. 24 letter to Knecht, the policing committee of Alberta's Criminal Trial Lawyers' Association (CTLA) expresses "deep disappointment with the lack of VICS video systems in all (Edmonton Police Service) patrol cars."

Video Incident Capture Systems (VICS) are used by police services and RCMP detachments across the province, including Calgary.

The cameras record video and audio both inside and outside of vehicles.

Footage creates transparency and evidence for allegations made by or against officers, said lawyer Alan Pearse, who wrote and signed the letter on behalf of the CTLA.

"It's surprising that a city of Edmonton's size doesn't have it," Pearse told CBC News Tuesday.

"We would like this remedied as soon as possible. We would like to know what's going on. Why does everyone else do this, including Calgary, and not them?"

Budgetary constraints

Edmonton police vehicles used to include VHS cameras, but they were discontinued without being replaced several decades ago.

The CTLA letter claims defence lawyer Tom Engel, chair of the association's policing committee, has talked to Knecht about installing new cameras. 

"Mr. Engel tells us he has discussed this with you and you are in support of VICS but there is no present money for that," the letter states.

"So that we can advocate on this issue, we are seeking your input."

The association is prepared to lobby government for funding for the cameras, Pearse said.

Courts and lawyers need the additional evidence to shorten or eliminate cases in Alberta's backlogged justice system, he added.

"Lobbying is the first step, for sure," he said.

The association is prepared to wait weeks for a response before taking further steps to advocate for cameras in Edmonton police cars, Pearse said.

"We're very Canadian, obviously," he said. "You politely ask people first, you see what's going on and then you assess the file after you get a response or if you don't."

EPS touts evidence over emotion

An Edmonton police spokesperson was unable to confirm Tuesday if the police chief had read the letter.

The service has experimented with recording police interactions, launching a three-year pilot project on body-worn video cameras in 2011.

A 2015 report concluded the technology "is yet unproven."

"I think that we were the first agency to say that we really questioned the value of body-worn video," said EPS security Peter Clissold, who oversaw the study.

"The conclusions we have come to are based on evidence and science rather than perception and emotion."

EPS shelved the project but will revisit body-worn cameras in 2023, Clissold said.

"We're waiting for technology to mature," he said. "When the whole environment matures, we might be in a position to review it seriously again."

Likewise, Clissold said EPS can't afford cameras in cop cars. Findings from the body-worn video pilot project further weaken the case, he added.

Installing the cameras would cost more than $6 million.