RCMP union calls for clear guidelines on when body cameras can be turned off

The union representing more than 19,000 Mounties is seeking clearer guidelines on when body-worn cameras can be turned off — and tougher penalties for those who make false accusations against officers.

NPF is also asking for legal penalties against those who make unfounded claims

A Montgomery County, Maryland police officer adjusts his body camera. The RCMP union says it supports the decision to equip officers with body cameras — but it has some concerns. (Gary Cameron/Reuters)

The union representing more than 19,000 Mounties is seeking clearer guidelines on when body-worn cameras can be turned off — and tougher penalties for those who make false accusations against officers.

"We believe that body-worn cameras will contribute to a greater level of context, transparency and accountability for both police and citizens," said National Police Federation president Brian Sauvé in a media statement today.

"We are also aware of very real privacy issues at play and want to be sure that this new tool won't encumber our members, interfere with their core police work or compromise their safety in any way."

RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki agreed back in June to begin outfitting officers with body cameras — a move that came in response to recent controversies connected to police use of force, accountability and systemic racism. A pilot project is already underway in Nunavut. 

The union released six calls to action on Tuesday, including a demand for RCMP policies and training that clearly state when the body cameras may or must be activated, and why.

"The RCMP must ensure that reasonable expectations of privacy — both for members as well as the public — are respected with regards to policy for the storage and editing of footage and for when the [body-worn cameras] can be turned on and off," said the union statement.

The RCMP has said it intends to work with the federal privacy commissioner as it rolls out body cameras.

The union is also asking for legal penalties against those who make unfounded claims against officers.

"When legally applicable and appropriate, charges of public mischief should be laid against those who, with intent and in bad faith, make accusations of misconduct against members that are clearly unfounded, as revealed by [body-worn cameras,]" it said.

Unfounded claims are not unheard of, according to the RCMP's own statistics.

In August, the RCMP said just one per cent of the more than 3,000 allegations it's received about improper use of force over the past five years have turned out to be founded — although critics have called those figures into question.

Millions set aside for national rollout

The union is also asking for user-friendly equipment and a commitment from the RCMP to not divert members from their frontline duties to deal with hours of bodycam footage.

"Special attention should be paid to the situation of small and remote detachments, who often have limited numbers of support staff, if any," said the union's statement.

"We're supportive so long as this new equipment does not unreasonably add to an already heavy workload or imperil the safety of RCMP members."

November's fall economic update included $238.5 million over the next six years, beginning in 2020-21, to outfit RCMP officers with body cameras. After that, the program will be sustained with $50 million in annual funding.

Mary-Liz Power, spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, said program funding will equip front line RCMP officers with the cameras and build a digital evidence system to store and manage footage.

Rebuilding trust with racialized, Indigenous communities

She said the government promised to implement a national body-worn camera program for the RCMP to rebuild trust between police and Canadians, including racialized and Indigenous communities.

The program aims to provide more transparency on police interactions and to modernize training with standards on the use of force, she said.

"The level of police intervention that is applied in any situation must be done in the context of a careful risk assessment. This includes making every effort to minimize the use of force," Power said in an email.

"Most occurrences can be resolved through dialogue, which is why crisis intervention and de-escalation training is mandatory for all RCMP officers."

A pilot project now underway in Iqaluit equips four on-duty RCMP officers per shift with the body cameras.

Data from the pilot will help guide policy and strategy for a broader rollout, Power said.

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