New RCMP dashcams coming after previous ones discontinued

The Saskatchewan RCMP had in-car video recording systems, however the systems were discontinued because the RCMP wanted to update the technology. Now the RCMP plans to expand a dashcam system province wide, again.

RCMP previously discontinued use of in-car video systems

In a statement, the RCMP said the implementation and deployment of the new in-car digital video systems was a 'priority for the Saskatchewan RCMP and at the onset of the pilot project, the goal was to ensure all detachments were using [them].' (CBC)

The Saskatchewan RCMP has in-car camera video equipment meant to capture evidence but hasn't been using it, a recent court case revealed. 

In the provincial court case, an RCMP officer testified "the RCMP has delayed implementation until it develops a policy respecting storage and trains members on the policy once it becomes effective," the judge's decision said.

"The equipment was in her vehicle when she started using it two years ago but the anticipated policy and training is not yet available."

The Saskatchewan RCMP said in an emailed statement that the in-car video system was discontinued to improve the technology.

RCMP say a pilot project with new dashcam technology began in May 2017 and involves White Butte, Saskatoon and Southey. It expects to go provincewide with the in-car digital video systems once the pilot wraps at the end of August. 

Some members have already received training from the manufacturer and disseminated what they learned to other officers. 

"When I began my role as commanding officer for the Saskatchewan RCMP, ensuring this technology was available in all our vehicles was a priority," said assistant commissioner Curtis Zablocki.

"I am pleased with the early results of the pilot project and I look forward to our provincewide rollout."

The RCMP didn't say what was different between the new technology and the old or what the cost of the project was. 

Policy implementation 

It's better to be on the slow side when it comes to implementing technology like dashcams, said Nick Jones, associate professor of justice studies at the University of Regina.

Questions need to be answered about what is admissible as evidence, how long the videos have to be stored and how they can be used in a court room.

"You don't want to be heading out of the gates without knowing how they're going to be used, without knowing what the implications are," Jones said. 

"If you don't have that policy really clearly articulated and if the people aren't properly trained on what that is, that could lead to a whole host of issues."

Furthermore, limited local research has been done on in-car cameras, Jones said. 

"Best practice evidence in terms of the effectiveness and the impacts in Canada is something that still seems to be fairly limited."

Associate professor Nick Jones said the implications of in-car camera systems extend beyond police and citizens to the legal system. (Samantha Lui/CBC)

Jones said some research has shown in-car cameras can increase transparency in operations and accountability of officers — and public opinion surveys show people believe it can prevent the abuse of authority.

The video gathered could be used as a training tool, used to measure officer performance and save time in the justice system, where video evidence could increase the likelihood of a guilty plea.

Privacy concerns

"With that comes some of the disadvantages," Jones said.

Some citizens have expressed concerns about not knowing if they're being recorded, Jones said. He added that some research has suggested the cameras can create an over-reliance on video and a reduction in attention to detail.

I'm not sure that, as a taxpayer, they necessarily know the implications of the cost.- Nick Jones, University of Regina department of justice studies

The cameras are typically stationary and have a limited field of vision.

The evidence can be used to support an officer's testimony, but some research has also raised concerns about discrepancies between a recording and a human's memory — especially a human operating under stress. 

Jones said the general public consensus appears to be positive in terms of having them installed.

"But I'm not sure that as a taxpayer they necessarily know the implications of the cost," he said.  

"Not just of obtaining the technology but also the issues around storage of it, retrieval of it, looking at how to collect, track, review, analyze and the provision of that evidence." 

Data management practices critical 

Recording can add up, Jones said, adding that needs to be clarified in policy because of cost as well as transparency. People will question the circumstances in which a camera was turned on and off, he said. There are also questions around privacy, regarding who has access to the video and when it can be used in the future. 

"Ensuring sound data management practices is critical as any data these systems gather could potentially be used as evidence during court," RCMP said in the statement.

"Additionally, ensuring we respect the privacy of individuals and gather and save data in accordance with privacy and other legislation is essential."