Hamilton police board votes against body cameras for 4th time

Hamilton police have once again decided not to use body-worn cameras, saying their impact is still debatable and that the benefits don't clearly outweigh the hefty costs.

Police will start providing annual updates on lapel camera costs

Hamilton's police service have been studying the use of body-worn cameras since 2014. (CBC)

Hamilton's police board has once again decided against officers using body-worn cameras, saying their impact is still debatable and that the benefits don't clearly outweigh the high costs.

However, the board agreed to start doing yearly reports on the cost of lapel cameras and how they're faring in other Canadian municipalities.

The police services board agreed with a committee report recommending against the cameras at its meeting Thursday. 

The report said research links body-worn cameras to fewer police use-of-force incidents and fewer public complaints; however, it's still unclear whether the change is statistically significant — and how much is attributable to the cameras.

"We have to look at the efficacy," said Chief Eric Girt at the meeting Thursday.

Girt could not provide a cost estimate for the cameras when asked by a councillor. Deputy Chief Frank Bergen estimated that it would cost $27.5 million over 10 years to deploy 525 cameras. The main cost is not the cameras, he said, but storing the video data.

Girt said lapel cameras don't capture everything that happens, and they can't be the only point of evidence. More member of the public are also using personal digital cameras and surveillance cameras nowadays, he said.

The board's decision comes a day after an inquest determined the 2016 police shooting of Tony Divers was a homicide. That shooting was captured on surveillance cameras and shown at the inquest.  The Divers' family members have called for police to wear body cameras since the shooting, criticizing past decisions not to adopt the technology.

Hamilton's Police Service Board adopted the report's recommendation against body-worn cameras at its meeting Thursday. (Laura Howells/CBC)

331 police complaints over two years

This is the fourth time Hamilton police have deferred the use of lapel cameras since they began studying the cameras in 2014. The hope is that body cameras could provide transparency about police use-of-force and unprofessional behaviour, mend trust with the public, and reduce the number of "frivolous complaints," the report says.

Hamilton police have previously said the research is inconclusive and that Canada doesn't have the same tensions between public and police as the U.S.

There were 331 police complaints between 2016 and 2018, the report said, which makes up "less than one percent of interactions with the public"

Girt said the number of complaints is "quite small" relative to total police calls.

Councillor asks for annual updates

Councillor Chad Collins asked the board for annual updates on costs of both a pilot project and full deployment, as well as other municipalities' results.

A future government might want to fund body cameras, he said, and the council should be prepared.

"I think we should be prepared, even as we have debate with own citizens," said Collins. He tabled a motion for the annual updates, and the board voted yes.

'We need the lapel cameras'

Norm Dorr, whose son-in-law Steve Mesic was fatally shot by police in 2013, tried to comment from the gallery but was quickly shut down by Mayor and board chair Fred Eisenberger.

"We need the lapel cameras," said Dorr, who has advocated for body cameras for several years. Police began studying body cameras following Mesic's death.

This screenshot from a surveillance video shown during the inquest into the death of Tony Divers shows the tense moments before the trigger was pulled on Sept. 30, 2016. (Anthony Divers Inquest)

"Why are you against cameras? You spend money on everything else."

Eisenberger said they would "not entertain" the public comment.

"We believe that our interactions with the community need to be transparent," said Bergen after the meeting on Thursday. "We are not shying away from being accountable."

However, he said, that is just one factor when considering whether to implement the cameras.

When asked to comment on the Diver inquiry's determination, Bergen was whisked away by a communications officer.


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