WRPS to begin pilot of body-worn cameras in June

The Waterloo Regional Police Service will start using body-worn and in-car cameras in June this year. The pilot project will run through December 2021.

Pilot will also include use of in-car video systems

A pilot of body-worn and in-car video systems will run from June to December this year. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

The Waterloo Regional Police Service (WRPS) will start using body-worn and in-car cameras in June this year as a pilot project.

The service's Neighbourhood Policing - North Division has been tapped to test the cameras, according to a report that will go before the police services board Wednesday.

The division has been split into four groups: one that will use body-worn cameras only, one that will use in-car cameras only, one that will use both and one that will use neither.

All in all, the North Division will pilot 70 body-warn camera systems and 33 in-car video systems. The WRPS Traffic Services unit will also participate and test out seven in-car video systems.

The idea of the pilot project, the board report said, is to evaluate whether the cameras are a practical way of collecting video evidence while also "balancing privacy rights."

'I don't agree,' says activist

Lang Ncube, community development coordinator for the African, Caribbean and Black Network of Waterloo Region, doesn't think body-worn cameras are a technology worth exploring.

Ncube pointed to a 2019 report by Montreal police that found body-worn cameras did not "unequivocally demonstrate" an uptick in transparency and trust between police and the public.

"Knowing all of this ... I don't agree that this is something we should be implementing in our region," she said.

Ncube also thinks the project is an example of an investment in policing that would be better spent on other public services, such as childcare.

According to the police services board report, the WRPS has entered an agreement with Axon Public Safety Canada for the pilot project. The company will provide a six-month free trial of its equipment along with unlimited digital storage of video footage.

The report said $450,000 of the police service's 2021 budget has been set aside for the body-worn and in-car camera pilot project. 

Evaluation expected in fall 2021

Police say that as the project rolls out, they will consult with the public about the project and develop procedures on deployment of the cameras and evidence storage. The report did not provide specific dates about when consultations will take place.

Ncube said she has many questions about how the footage will be used and who will have access to it. 

"How can we talk about body cameras building trust, when even some of the foundational things that we need to know, we haven't been told?" she said. 

A report evaluating the first four months of the pilot project will be submitted to the police services board this fall. The pilot project is set to wrap up in December 2021.

Meanwhile, the WRPS also plans to roll out a new digital evidence management system and a "mobile smart phone strategy" that will see patrol officers using smart phones to capture evidence in the field.

Police Chief Bryan Larkin is expected to speak to the new technologies at the police services board Wednesday. More information is included in the police services board package.