Toronto

Toronto police get body-worn cameras next week

Toronto police unveiled the body cameras 100 of its officers will wear in order to gain an "unbiased, accurate account" of interactions with the public.

Critics of pilot project question police protocols when it comes to cameras

Critics of pilot project question police protocols when it comes to cameras 2:59

Toronto police unveiled the body cameras 100 of its officers will wear  to gain an "unbiased, accurate account" of interactions with the public.

The cameras — which part of a pilot project launched in the wake of several incidents, most notably the 2013 shooting death of 18-year-old Sammy Yatim on a TTC streetcar — will be worn by officers attached to four different units who have been trained about how to use them. 

Staff Supt. Tom Russell said the cameras are an exciting project for the force that has the "Potential to strengthen the policing profession."

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      But critics of the pilot project question what it will mean for people's privacy, and how much of the footage will ever be shared with the public.

      Supt. Russell admitted body-worn cameras are a complex issue, but stressed that the use of the cameras will be "overt." Officers are expected to quickly inform people that they're filming and to only turn the cameras off when the interaction is over.

      "We're not conducting surveillance on people or the community ... this is about a direct interaction with someone," Russell said.

      During the pilot project, the cameras will be worn by officers attached to the Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy (TAVIS) rapid response team, traffic services motor squad, primary response unit at 55 division and the community response unit at 43 division.

      One key question already put forward about the cameras is if they will capture instances of carding, the controversial program in which police officers stop people at random to collect information.

      "If an officer is going to speak to a member of the public for the purposes of perhaps collecting some personal identifiers or simply asking them 'what's your purpose here?' — those types of engagements will be videotaped," Russell said.

      He said the cameras will also be rolling when police respond to calls.

      The first of the cameras are set to roll out on Monday and all 100 should be operational by the end of May. 

      Survey goes out

      Part of the pilot project will be a survey sent to 20,000 households in Scarborough, a portion of which is covered by 

      The survey — which police say is anonymous — asks questions about when a body-worn camera should be worn, when it should be on and what it should be used for. 

      The respondents are asked about drawbacks of the cameras too.

      The survey is online, but requires respondents to enter a valid Toronto postal code. It can be found here.

      Russell also outlined some of the features of the three types of body cameras that will be used, which range in price from around $600 to $1,000. The pilot project will evaluate the pros and cons of each, in the event that police choose to expand the program, Russell said.

      All of the cameras appeared to turn on quickly at the news conference, and Russell said once they've captured a video there's no way for the officer to alter, edit or delete the video.

      All of the videos will be kept for at least one year on secure police computers, he said, and any videos deemed to be valuable evidence will be kept longer.

      Questions linger about effectiveness of cameras

      John Sewell, of the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition, still has questions about how the program will work.

      "What's the notification that police are supposed to give before taping begins? Or do they not give it? Who knows," he said.

      Sewell also questioned the protocols for protecting the rights of innocent people caught on tape. And, he wondered how much of the video will be made public.

      Supt. Russell said police consulted with the privacy and human rights commissions as well as the attorney general while the pilot project was drawn up.

      Some police forces in Canada, the U.S. and U.K. already use body-worn cameras, while others are considering equipping their officers with them. While some statistics show they're effective, critics have concerns whether it will make an overall difference.

      Toronto police say they will decide whether or not to keep the cameras based on a community survey that will be conducted after the pilot project ends. 

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