Build us a body-worn camera with technology 'that doesn't fail,' Toronto police tell manufacturers

The Toronto Police Service says it wants its officers to wear body cameras, but says the current equipment isn't technologically advanced enough to be useful to the force. That's why police held an information session with various manufacturers Tuesday to lay out exactly what features the cameras need.

Cameras' batteries run out too quickly among other problems, Toronto police say

The cost of body-worn cameras for Toronto police officers is estimated at $51 million over a five-year span. (CBC)

The Toronto Police Service (TPS) says it wants its officers to wear body cameras, but says the current equipment isn't technologically advanced enough to be useful to the force.

That's why police held an information session with various manufacturers Tuesday to lay out exactly what features the cameras need after concluding a pilot project last year that equipped 85 officers with the cellphone-sized devices. 

While the project was considered relatively successful, the force did not move forward in partnering with a manufacturer to outfit more officers. 

"The reason we didn't select a vendor is because we felt that the technology, in its current state at the end of our project, would not do the things that we needed it to do," said Insp. Michael Barsky, who oversees the body camera program for TPS.

The single most pressing concern is battery life, Barsky told CBC Toronto. The two different camera models, made by different vendors, would run out of power within a few hours of the start of an officer's shift.

Another issue was how to manage the immense amount of data produced each day. Barsky explained that a single officer's camera would create up to 2.5 gigabytes of data over a regular shift. 

"We have to ensure that on that occasion when something bad can or does happen, that it's captured in its totality and that the technology doesn't fail," he said. 

TPS held the session Tuesday not only to solicit camera manufacturers, but also to find out if the technology has improved enough to make the cameras effective tools for police.

Tech has 'rapidly evolved'

Barsky is optimistic the service will be able to find a partner who can meet the needs of its officers and the public. 

"The reality is, when we did our pilot project in 2015, there were about a handful of vendors," he explained. "We appreciate the technology has rapidly evolved as well as the number of vendors has increased."

Police will choose a company with input from William Mocsan, a fairness commissioner with Knowles Canada, a management consulting firm. 

Barsky said he expects the process to take about 20 to 24 months from now until full implementation, at an estimated total cost of $51 million spread out over several years. 

In its review of the pilot project published in June 2016, Toronto police concluded that body-worn cameras "do provide the unbiased, independent account of police/community interactions."

Polling suggests that 85 per cent of current officers support the use of the technology, while 95 per cent of civilians surveyed back service-wide use.

Former police watchdog calls for cameras

Advocates for cameras have called for the technology in order to give a clear view on police interactions with the public.

Ian Scott, a former director of Ontario's Special Investigations Unit, spent years with the province's police watchdog agency investigating claims of misconduct by officers. 

He believes video can be key evidence in trials, especially when there are different accounts of an event.

"There's always going to be a huge gap between memory and trying to reconstruct events from memory — as opposed to video evidence, digital video evidence," Scott said. 

Ian Scott, a former director of the Special Investigations Unit, said video can be key evidence in the prosecution of police misconduct and can provide transparency for the public. (CBC)

"No doubt in my mind that [video] will be of major assistance to anybody who has to make decision on police-public interactions."

Toronto would not be the lone municipality in southern Ontario to outfit its officers with body-worn cameras;Durham has also taken steps to begin a camera program for its police force this year. 

Scott added that cameras can provide transparency to communities that might not trust police officers.

"It's going to help us understand what is going on in these interactions. Half the battle is understanding, because ... there can be a lot of controversy over what the police saw or what happened."

With files from Adrian Cheung