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Durham Police Body Camera Pilot Project Ends

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP


Durham Regional Police Services (“DRPS”) have been involved in a one-year pilot project called the “Body-Worn Camera Project”.  Eighty front-line police officers have been wearing the devices while on duty for the past year.  The pilot project is now being evaluated and it will be determined by the end of the year whether the body-worn cameras (“BWC”) will continue to be used on a daily basis.

BODY-WORN CAMERA PROJECT

The Body-Worn Camera Project was launched on June 22, 2018 at a cost of $1.2 million.  The price tag included the need for training, IT support, video management, evaluation and storage costs. 

The cellphone-sized devices are attached to the officers while on-duty and record specific police interactions with the public, not an entire shift.  It is at the officer’s discretion when to activate the cameras and when to turn them off.

Sergeant Jason Bagg believes that BWCs can enhance training, investigations and prosecution outcomes.  He is hopeful that BWCs will result in more guilty pleas and higher conviction rates in domestic violence cases.  He states:

Body-worn cameras have been used around the world to collect evidence for prosecutions, they’ve been used to improve community trust, police transparency, policy legitimacy and procedural justice.

However, despite the benefits of BWCs, this method has been met with criticism.  There are critics that are concerned about privacy and the fear that the video may become public.  There is also a concern that the processing of the video to be used in court may create delays, which may lead to charges being dropped.

BWC STUDY

Lakehead University researchers have been studying the effects of body-worn cameras (“BWC”) by police officers and their interaction with the public.  From November 20, 2018 to December 8, 2018, researchers joined the Festive R.I.D.E. program (designed to reduce impaired driving by setting up checkpoints to randomly stop motorists) with Durham Regional Police Service. 

During this study, officers wore cameras for eight shifts and did not wear them for seven shifts.  All officers involved in the study began their interaction with the public with an introduction, followed by advising the motorists that they were wearing a BWC and would be recording the interaction during the R.I.D.E. stop.

Surveys were given to 3,636 motorists following their R.I.D.E. check, which included questions about the R.I.D.E. experience and their general opinions regarding the police.  A total of 287 surveys were analyzed and results showed that those who interacted with an officer wearing a BWC felt more positive about all outcomes measured in the survey.  The study found that those who interacted with officers wearing a BWC had more positive perceptions of:

  • Officer politeness during the R.I.D.E. interaction;
  • Officer fairness during the R.I.D.E. interaction;
  • Officer performance in general;
  • Confidence in police in general;
  • Police fairness;
  • Support for police use of BWCs.

The researchers concluded that the officers wearing BWCs and advising the public led to positive public perception of officers and the police in general, in addition to positive support for BWCs by the public.  Drivers, in general, found the officers wearing BWCs to be more polite and trustworthy.

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

DRPS officers turned off their BWCs on June 22, 2019, at the end of the pilot project.  Officers have recorded more than 26,000 videos, and it is estimated that 30% of the recordings have been or will be used as evidence in court for criminal and provincial offence trials.

The technology is now being evaluated as part of an ongoing cost-benefit analysis.  The cameras have been found to increase the workload for officers who use them, and there are extra costs associated with data processing and storage. 

Seven months into the project, DRPS found that there was no significant increase in officer overtime, reduced call responses or affected traffic enforcement.  DRPS did find that officers using BWCs were spending approximately 10% more time on scene (approximately 5 to 12 more minutes).  Sgt. Bagg also confirmed that there had been an increase in workload as a result of managing cases with camera evidence at the half-way mark of the project, however, it was unclear what the impact was. 

A final report on the pilot project is expected to be issued by the end of the year.

We will continue to report any developments or results of an evaluation of the BWC pilot project on this blog.

In the meantime, if you have any questions regarding charges that have been laid against you or regarding your legal rights, please contact the knowledgeable criminal lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP online or at 905-404-1947.  Our skilled criminal lawyers have significant experience defending a wide range of criminal charges and protecting our client’s rights.  For your convenience, we offer a 24-hour telephone service to protect your rights and to ensure that you have access to justice.