Montreal police test out body cameras under new pilot project

Several dozen Montreal police officers will be wearing body cameras as part of a nine-month pilot project starting today. "We need to be in tune with the times," Mayor Denis Coderre said.

'We need to be in tune with the times,' Mayor Denis Coderre says as test run launched

A member of the Vancouver Police Department wears a chest mounted camera in 2014. Montreal police announced their own pilot project on Wednesday. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Several dozen Montreal police officers will be wearing body cameras as part of a nine-month pilot project starting today. 

The initiative will be the first of its kind in Quebec.

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre said the cameras will help protect both citizens and police officers in an age where nearly everyone is equipped with a cell phone video camera.

"We need to be in tune with the times and, as we can see, the times have clearly changed," Coderre said, contending that the cameras will give a more complete sense of events.

Coderre, who hinted the pilot project could very likely become something "permanent," made the announcement at city hall on Wednesday alongside Montreal's police chief, Philippe Pichet.

Officers to decide when it's turned on

Officers will be trained to know when to turn on or off the camera during police operations. While they will be able to view video they've recorded, they won't be able to modify or delete it.

Montreal police will use a device called the Axon Body 2 camera for its pilot project announced Wednesday. (TASER International)

The footage will be stored using cloud-hosted data storage.

  • In phase one, 20 Metro police officers and 10 traffic patrollers working in the southern part of the island will be equipped with body cameras.
  • The second phase will involve expanding the number of officers wearing the cameras, to include those who patrol in other sectors. 

The pilot project will last one year, leading to a public consultation in April 2017. The decision on whether or not to move forward will be made by next summer.  

Support from police union

Yves Francoeur, president of the Montreal Police Brotherhood, has already said he supports the idea, noting the cameras may add context to what citizens post online.

"What you're going to see on YouTube is from the moment of the arrest, but we never have what happened before," Francoeur said recently.

Montreal Police Brotherhood president Yves Francoeur has supported the idea of body cameras. (CBC)

Aggressive behaviour toward officers in Edmonton and Calgary dropped once people knew they were being filmed, according to Francoeur.

Montreal has been exploring the possibility for years and several police forces in Canada, the United States and Europe have already introduced body cameras or implemented pilot projects.

In a report last year, Canada's privacy commissioner flagged a host of privacy issues that have arisen as more and more police forces consider attaching video cameras to their officers' uniforms.

Evidence of fewer complaints

There is some evidence that use of body-worn cameras by police reduces both complaints against police and the use of force by front-line officers.

A randomized controlled trial in Rialto, Calif., which introduced body cameras for its 50 officers in 2012 after several police misconduct scandals, found that in the 12 months that body cameras were used, there was a 60 per cent drop in use-of-force incidents and an 88 per cent drop in citizen complaints about police behaviour.

Montreal police chief Philippe Pichet announced plans to equip officers with body cameras last fall. (Peter McCabe/Canadian Press)

Studies in Phoenix and Mesa, Ariz., had similar results.

Testing across Canada

A number of Canadian police forces are in the midst of pilot projects assessing whether officers will wear video cameras on their uniforms.

Calgary is the city closest to outfitting all of its front-line uniformed police officers with cameras — something the force has announced it will do by 2017. 

The Edmonton Police Service planned to move forward on a smaller scale by distributing 60 cameras to members of its traffic services branch, but halted the program due to lack of funding.

Experts in both civil rights and policing say they see value in the practice but urge proceeding with caution. 

"The 'how' is extremely important," Laura Berger, acting director of the public safety program at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, told CBC News in April. 

"This is an area where the devil is absolutely in the details."

with files from Stephen Smith


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