Canada

RCMP to test Taser cameras

RCMP officers in Kelowna, B.C., and Moncton, N.B., are testing two kinds of cameras that will record Taser firings during six-month field trials.

RCMP officers in Kelowna, B.C., and Moncton, N.B., are testing two kinds of cameras that will record Taser firings during six-month field trials.

Included in the tests is the Taser Cam, an accessory for newer-model stun guns made by Taser International, which supplies the RCMP. Also to be tested is the VIDMIC, an audio-video recorder that attaches to an officer's belt radio.

Field testing of the devices in the two communities was slated to begin in December, say internal briefing notes on the project obtained under the Access to Information Act.

Results from the trials will be analyzed to determine whether one or both of the devices will be used by the RCMP.

The tests come amid growing concern about police accountability on use of stun guns, which deliver a powerful jolt that incapacitates suspects.

An RCMP complaints commission report on the case of Robert Dziekanski — who died after an RCMP Taser was used on him at Vancouver International airport — said there would have been "a clear benefit" to video footage capturing the events from the officers' perspective.

Key issue: how will video be used?

Complementing stun guns with recording devices may be beneficial because documenting incidents can make police more accountable, said Micheal Vonn, policy director of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association. However, an important factor will be what happens to the video and audio after they are recorded, she said.

There should be protocols to ensure the digital recordings cannot be tampered with and are readily available to police watchdogs, she said. "We see a lot of video go missing that complainants say would support their side of the story."

Vonn noted that a public tussle ensued over an amateur videotape of the October 2007 confrontation involving Dziekanski. The tape was returned to traveller Paul Pritchard, who shot the video and loaned it to the RCMP, after he threatened to go to court.

A camera made by Axon was disqualified from the field trials due to RCMP concerns about control over the videos.  

"After obtaining further information on these cameras it was learned that the recordings from the Axon camera are sent to a third party housed in the United States," say the briefing notes prepared for senior Mounties. "As a result of this, the Axon was removed as an option for the pilot project."

The RCMP rented a total of 10 Taser Cams and 10 VIDMICS for the trials, according to the notes.