Edmonton police not ready to equip all officers with cameras

Results from a three-year study on the use of body-worn cameras show that the police service is not ready for the technology.

'Video is the way of the future,' says deputy chief

“Video is the way of the future," says Deputy Chief Danielle Campbell. "This technology is valuable to policing, we believe.” (CBC)

The Edmonton Police Service isn't ready for all of its members to turn the lens on themselves and the public.

Results from a three-year study examining the use of body worn cameras have shown that the force is not ready for the technology, nor is the technology adequate yet — but the potential exists, said Deputy Chief Danielle Campbell during a media conference at police headquarters Tuesday.

"Technology is changing the way police deliver services," said Campbell, "but like all technology we consider using, it needs to be tested."

Then there's the cost. Body-worn cameras are expensive, about $1,000 each. The larger cost, however, comes once the video is returned, ingested and stored back at headquarters or police stations around the city.

"It's the back-end costs that, quite frankly, we don't know what those costs are really going to be yet," said Campbell.

"In terms of the data storage, the maintenance of the data, the time it takes for officers to review the video in terms of data storage.

"Taking officers off the streets to review video will result in fewer officers being available to respond to calls for service and significant increase in operating expenses."

Key findings of study

EPS spent three years researching and testing the cameras with funding support from the Centre for Security Science. Some of the key points from their research were:

  • clear policies need to be drafted about when police should start recording
  • where and how to store the data needs to be addressed
  • the test project found no "significant" evidence that body-worn cameras reduced use of force by officers
  • police work time would "notably increase" if video review became part of daily police routine

Campbell was quick to point out the potential of using body-worn video, or BMV, saying "video is the way of the future."

The report overseen by Mary Stratton, an Edmonton-based researcher and sociologist, recommends that "EPS wait before investing further in BMV, adding that EPS management should "consider the viability of a BMV program for specific EPS units."

The study comes at a time when many police forces across the country are struggling with whether to embrace the technology.

On one hand is the additional evidence that body-worn cameras can provide, but on the other are the added complications that collecting and using that information can bring, including privacy and security concerns about how the data is stored. 

Alberta's privacy commissioner was consulted as part of the study and was among of a group of commissioners from across Canada who raised concerns about body-worn cameras in February 2015. 

"There are clearly benefits to the use of body-worn cameras, however, there are also significant privacy implications," said Daniel Therrien, privacy commissioner of Canada, in February.

"Given this, and as more and more policing organizations consider adopting this technology, we are encouraging them to address those privacy issues up front to ensure they strike the right balance between law enforcement needs and the privacy rights of Canadians."

30 per cent of officers reject cameras

As part of the study, both the public and the police were asked for their feedback.

The report said the public is "mostly positive" about body-worn cameras, but they have high expectations for the technology that may not be realistic.

The police officers who actually wore the cameras said they wanted smaller, lighter cameras with better battery life. While one in four said they'd like to use the equipment as a permanent policing tool, almost half said maybe and 30 per cent said no. 

As part of the study, police officers working downtown, at West Edmonton Mall, on Whyte Avenue and in the impaired driving countermeasures unit wore the cameras for 18 months from October 2012 to July 2014.

Cameras and the use of force

Several studies in the U.S. have indicated that when police use body cameras during an arrest it can reduce the complaints they receive about use of force.

The findings of the Edmonton study found no such correlation and police officers who used the body-worn cameras reported it caused them to "hesitate to use appropriate levels of force."

Throughout Tuesday's news conference, several references were made to the "enormous cost" the cameras could have on the police budget.

For example, the Hamilton police force estimated that equipping 190 officers would cost $15 million initially and an additional $3 million per year after that.

Campbell said EPS will work on a business case to present to the police commission in September detailing the cost as well as the potential benefits of body-worn cameras.

If its plan is approved, officers could start wearing body-worn cameras by early 2016, beginning with officers who are involved in "high risk interactions" with the public such as checkstops and riot prevention. 


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