Kennebecasis Valley police equip officers with next-generation body cams
39-officer force has been using body cameras since 2012
As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau calls for all Mounties to be equipped with body cameras amid growing protests against racism-motivated police brutality, the Kennebecasis Regional Police Force says it has already purchased new equipment for its 39 uniformed members.
"We've just replaced all our cameras earlier this year," said Wayne Gallant, chief of the force that polices the Kennebecasis Valley communities outside Saint John.
The force started using body camera technology as far back as 2012.
Today, officers wear Axon Body 3 cameras that are manufactured by Axon Enterprise of Scottsdale, Ariz., formerly known as Taser International. The company launched its first body camera in 2008 and has reinvented the technology a few times over.
Gallant said officers have yet to realize the equipment's full potential because the pandemic has delayed Axon technicians from finishing the installation.
With the older models, the cameras had to be turned on manually.
The chief said the new cameras will start recording automatically when triggered by actions such as opening a vehicle door or pulling out a Taser or a sidearm.
If one officer's camera comes on, and there are other officers nearby, their cameras should also start recording automatically, said Gallant.
"A body camera footage will offer you one vantage point of a view of what happened," said Gallant.
"If you're fortunate enough to have multiple officers with them and an in-car camera system, then you're going to have more vantage points."
Gallant declined to say how much the upgrade cost.
"They don't come cheap," he said. "I can tell you that they're expensive."
"I can't release the exact figures but I can tell you that it's a significant investment by any police force, big or small."
Still, he said he would recommend them.
In an email to CBC News, Vishal Dhir, a spokesperson for Axon, said its body cameras range in cost between $650 and $950. It can cost an additional $1,188 a year per officer in software and service fees.
Gallant said the video is useful when it comes to responding to complaints or concerns raised by the public.
"We'll invite them in to view the footage if there's been a misunderstanding around a particular interaction with an officer or there's an actual public complaint against the officer, then our senior officers and management team will review the footage with the public and go over it with them and say, 'Is this how you remember it, or is this not how you remember it?'
"And that generally clears up misunderstandings ... very, very quickly whereas before that would have taken weeks, if not months, and possibly a full investigation to clarify exactly what happened."
The video has also been used in court in cases involving traffic violations, intimate partner violence or assault charges, mischief and theft.
All available body camera footage is disclosed when charges are laid.
Fatal shooting video never released
Police forces across New Brunswick have made their own decisions as to whether to adopt body cameras.
An Edmundston Police Force officer was not wearing one when he fatally shot 26-year-old Chantel Moore on June 4.
However, Rothesay police — as they were then known — did wear body cameras when they responded to a domestic dispute on Feb. 28, 2014.
Twenty-six-year-old William McCaffrey was shot at his family's home on Shipyard Road and later died in hospital.
The video evidence was used by the RCMP in their investigation into that shooting and they concluded the Rothesay officer used reasonable force.
CBC News requested access to the video but that request was denied.
Rothesay police also refused to release the video after New Brunswick's privacy commissioner Anne Bertrand ruled in favour of the access request.
According to Bertrand's report, the camera captured the events that unfolded, including the search for the individual at the residence, then locating him, then discussions with him ... "at which point the individual began to injure himself and a Taser was deployed on him.
"The camera then shows the individual lunging at that police force member with two knives. The body-worn camera then recorded the shooting, twice at the individual and police force members attending to the individual on
the ground thereafter."
Releasing the video, Bertrand wrote, is the "right thing to do" for the public to understand the decision to use fatal force.
"In special circumstances, there may be a public interest in the public knowing about what happened, despite there being personal information involved," Bertrand said in an interview.
However, there was nothing to compel the police force to comply with her decision.
The family told CBC they didn't want the video released.
Gallant said it was a tragic situation and he offered condolences to McCaffrey's family but he said he wasn't the police chief at the time and doesn't know why the commissioner's recommendations were never followed.
The Kennebecasis force runs on a budget of about $6 million per year, according to its 2019 annual report.
Most of the spending, or about $5.1 million pays for officer salaries and benefits.
The report says there were 16 public complaints last year.
Bob McLaughlin, the chair of the Joint Board of Police Commissioners, said he supports the upgrade, although he isn't sure exactly what the new technology cost.
He said it's up to the chief's discretion to decide what equipment to purchase.
"I think [the cameras] are in everyone's interest," said McLaughlin. "You've got something you can refer to, for anything."
The costs of running the force are shared by the municipalities of Rothesay and Quispamsis, based on a formula that includes factors such as population size.