Edmonton

Edmonton police camera-shy about body-worn recorders

A recent move by Calgary police to equip frontline officers with body-worn cameras has renewed calls in Edmonton to follow suit. But the Edmonton Police Service says it has no plans at the moment to invest in the technology.

Calgary police laud multiple benefits after equipping 1,100 officers in May

Edmonton police say the service is still considering its future when it comes to body-worn cameras. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

A recent move by Calgary police to equip frontline officers with body-worn cameras has renewed calls in Edmonton to follow suit.

Proponents say it would shrink demand on an overburdened court system and better protect officers and suspects.

But the Edmonton Police Service (EPS) says it has no plans right now to invest in the technology. 

"Technology has advanced but there are still some hidden costs behind it," said Ron Anderson, the chief innovation and technology officer with EPS, listing costs such as the storage of video, and review and uploading required by officers. 

"When we look at the overall landscape in Canada and the research for body-worn videos and the cost benefits, there really hasn't been a large number of rollouts with evaluations as of yet," Anderson said Monday.

He said a study conducted by the service in 2014 concluded Edmonton police should wait before making what would amount to a multi-million-dollar investment. A plan to equip traffic officers with body-worn cameras was put on hold in 2016.

"We're still ... watching other Canadian locations to see how the measurement of their particular implementations have gone while we consider our future," Anderson said.

He said an investment in body-worn cameras would have to be weighed against other capital spending on items like vehicles, equipment and outreach.

'Irrefutable evidence'

As of May, Calgary's 1100 frontline officers are all equipped with body cameras. The overall cost wasn't available at deadline.

While it's too early to provide statistical analysis, Calgary Staff Sgt. Travis Baker said initial investment needs to weighed against the many benefits that are harder to measure. 

Baker described how video may reduce a six-month disciplinary hearing to a couple of days, or lead to an obviously impaired driver pleading out early instead of dragging out the court process. He said domestic assault injuries caught on camera are irrefutable evidence. 

"It's not the officer's opinion," said Baker. "It's obvious to everybody who sees the video exactly what the injuries are. 

"If a picture is a thousand words then a half-hour video is a book. It's a novel. And it's astronomical the difference it makes in evidence presentation." 

If a picture is a thousand words then a half-hour video is a book. It's a novel. And it's astronomical the difference it makes in evidence presentation.- Staff Sgt. Travis Baker

Baker said many officers refuse to go out without cameras. 

He said former Calgary police chief Roger Chaffin was thinking far ahead when he championed the project.

"We should be responsible, we should be transparent to the public — that's who we serve," Baker said.

"We need to catch up with the times. Everybody has a cell phone. They're all making video. It ends up on social media. We would like to have a pure version that we have that's not been edited ... We want to send that best evidence we possibly can forward."

Alberta's Criminal Trial Lawyer's Association (CTLA) has long called for Edmonton police to use cameras.

"What the evidence so far shows from the U.S. use of body cameras in California and other states is that it really helps minimize conflict," said Jordan Stuffco, CTLA president. 

"It can assist with officer safety as well as making suspects or people who are being arrested … change their behaviour and so they're more compliant and less aggressive and hostile."

RCMP use vehicle cameras

Since at least 2009, Alberta RCMP have used vehicle cameras that are automatically activated when the emergency equipment is turned on. They can also be switched on manually. Members wear a microphone. Other cameras cover the back seat when someone is in custody.

"These cameras are beneficial as supervisors can review footage from a public complaint," said RCMP spokesperson Fraser Logan. "They can also be used as a form of evidence in court."

Anderson said EPS is exploring the possibility of in-car cameras as they have a higher likelihood of recording video with evidentiary value.

Amanda Hart-Dowhun, a criminal defence lawyer and president of the Alberta Prison Justice Society, said in many cases in-car video can significantly reduce court time.

"In many cases here in Edmonton what you'll see is the Crown and the defence are in essence disputing the facts of what happened," Hart-Dowhun said.

"When there is video footage … the Crown will look at it and withdraw or the defence will look at it and they're more amenable to a guilty plea."

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