Body cameras for officers in Winnipeg not a matter of if, but when: police board chair
Early evidence suggests body cameras have little impact on police use of force, criminologist says
The chair of the Winnipeg Police Board says police in this city can expect to get body cameras at some point in the future, but there are no immediate plans to purchase the technology.
Police in Winnipeg have called for the cameras for years. The City of Winnipeg has estimated it would cost $7 million to purchase the technology — including more than 1,300 cameras — and another $4 million annually to maintain.
In June 2021, city council rejected a proposal to increase the Winnipeg Police Service budget in order to buy them. That means if the service wants the cameras, it must find the money within its existing budget.
A motion put forward by then councillor Kevin Klein in 2020 to purchase body cameras was also rejected by a city committee.
However, that could change within the next few years, as the service plans to increase the use of digital evidence collection, Coun. Markus Chambers (St. Norbert-Seine River) now says.
"Body-worn cameras will fit right into that, in terms of the digital evidence management piece," Chambers said in an interview on Friday.
"So that's something that we're looking at as well — not a matter of if, it's a matter of when, as we're using technology more effectively."
Police services in the U.S. and in Canada are using body cameras, but they've been slow to come to Manitoba.
Police in Altona began using body cameras in 2021. The police service in that small southern town uses cellphone cameras that are worn on the chest.
The RCMP is testing cameras in Nova Scotia, Alberta and Nunavut, ahead of a national rollout over the next 12 to 18 months.
"Once complete, body-worn cameras will become the national standard for general duty front-line RCMP officers," an RCMP spokesperson said in an email.
The issue has taken on new urgency after Memphis police officers were charged in the death of Tyre Nichols. Video, including body camera footage, showed the officers brutally beating Nichols after a traffic stop.
Police and community advocates have promoted the technology.
"The Winnipeg Police Service recognizes the growing demands for greater accountability and transparency, and the service continues to express a strong desire to help address these demands," a June 2021 police board report states.
Having the cameras would "enhance officer accountability and maintain a truthful and integral narrative of police interactions with the public," the report said.
"Deferring the project will delay the rollout for increased operational transparency."
Questionable impact: criminologist
But one expert says early evidence hasn't shown the cameras make much of an impact.
"There was some initial research that was very promising — that there was less use of force by police, there were less complaints by the public," said Michael Weinrath, a criminology professor at the University of Winnipeg.
"But some of the more recent research shows no effects. There is even a study that shows an increase in use of force complaints."
A pilot project was launched in 2015 to study the use of body cameras in Winnipeg, but the project was scrapped a year later due to budget pressures.
The purchase of cameras for the Winnipeg Police Service was later deferred to the 2024 budget process.
CBC News requested an interview with police Chief Danny Smyth, but he was not available. A spokesperson for Winnipeg police said in an email the chief still supports the technology.