Edmonton police to test body cameras

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

Project will consider privacy and other legal issues, say police

Supt. Ed Keller poses with the 'body worn' video camera the Edmonton Police Service is testing. (CBC)

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

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

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

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

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.

"We need to look things like how much does it cost ... and how usable is the video when it's attached to a body and that body is running down an alley or in low light conditions or adverse weather when it's snowing."

The trial will involve about 20 cameras, each costing just under $1,000, said Stratton. 

"Other than one U.K. study and a small study in Victoria, B.C., there hasn't been a professionally designed systematic assessment for the length of time this one will look at the cameras," she said.

The cameras are not used in Canada, though they are popular in the United Kingdom, Stratton said. 

Body worn cameras are long overdue, said criminal lawyer Tom Engel.

"It is a huge leap forward because it creates an independent record, visual and audio," he said. "It's going to save the justice system an enormous amount of time and money."

Engel sees the cameras encouraging criminals to plead guilty rather than going to trial, prosecutor's dropping charges if they shouldn't have been laid in the first place and fewer officers using excessive force, he said. 

Keller said the EPS has no plans to adopt the technology at the end of the test period.