police accountability

Public Petitions for Police to be Outfitted with Body-Worn Cameras

Written on Behalf of Affleck & Barrison LLP

Pressure has begun to mount throughout Canada for police officers to wear body cameras while on the job.

Growing anger and demands for answers by Canadians has escalated following the death of 29-year-old Regis Korchinski-Paquet, who fell from a 24th floor balcony on May 27, 2020 during an encounter with police, the death of Ejaz Choudry, who was shot and killed by police during a mental health crisis call in Mississauga, and the fatal death of D’Andre Campbell at his home in Brampton.

These cases, and other similar ones, are sparking a global mission to eradicate systemic racism in policing.  One of the proposed solutions is for the police to utilize body-worn cameras, which are currently in use by a only a few police services across the country.  The biggest one being the Calgary Police Service which has 1,150 front-line officers equipped with body cameras.

A petition addressed to Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders has gathered more than 100,000 signatures.  The petition asks that all officers wear body cameras whenever responding to a call in an effort to hold officers accountable for their actions.

Chief Saunders is in support of mandatory body cameras for his officers and is hoping to begin outfitting his officers with this technology sometime this year, especially in response to the death of Korchinski-Paquet.  He stated:

This is a textbook case as to why I have been advocating for body-worn cameras and I’m now fast-tracking to the best of my ability to allow that process to speed up.

Last month, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated he was advocating to provincial premiers to equip police with body-worn cameras in an effort to eradicate allegations of racism and brutality.  These cameras would effectively document the police interaction with the public.

CALGARY POLICE SERVICE EXPERIENCE WITH BODY-WORN CAMERAS

Staff Sgt. Travis Baker is in charge of the body camera project for the Calgary Police Service, which has been in operation for the past 15 months.  Officers are trained to turn on the camera any time they begin an interaction with the public and are required to tell people that the camera is running. 

According to Sgt. Baker the body cameras have had positive results on policing in Calgary.  He stated:

We’re not out there to hurt people, we are out there to help people, and we want to capture all those interactions that we have with everyone regardless of what it is. 

… Pretty much if you run into a uniformed officer on the street, they’re going to be wearing a body-worn camera.  It’s pretty easy to spot – it’s right in the middle of their chest and it usually has a big glowing red light on it when it’s recording. … I think it keeps everybody on an even playing field… the camera’s unbiased, it doesn’t have an opinion.  It just records what happens in front of it.  …

Sgt. Baker believes that the body-worn cameras de-escalate the situation when officers are interacting with the public:

I think it changes the behaviour of both the officer and the person they’re dealing with, be it victim, witness or accused, because they can see the camera running.  We can get that kind of de-escalation right off the hop.  People know it’s running so they slow down and start thinking about what they’re doing.

The cameras are also an evidence gathering tool which can be used in court.  The video footage can provide details that may have been missed and if there are multiple cameras in use at an incident, it can provide views from different angles. 

DURHAM POLICE BODY CAMERA STUDY ON HIATUS

We have previously blogged about a pilot project in Durham, which ran between June 2018 and June 2019, wherein officers in Pickering and Ajax and traffic enforcement officers involved in the Festive RIDE team were equipped with body-worn cameras.  Those officers recorded more than 26,616 videos.  Approximately half of the video footage has been categorized as evidence and 30% of the recorded footage has been or will be used as evidence in court.

This type of technology was being reviewed to weigh the benefits of providing accountability of the officers in their interactions with the public and the costs of the increased workload and associated expenses involved with data processing and storage. 

In April 2020, Durham Police Service announced that the consideration of implementing body-worn cameras was being put on hold as the COVID-19 pandemic progressed.  At this time, there has been no further information regarding when the study will continue and whether any determinations have been made to resume the use of body-worn cameras in Durham region.

We will continue to follow any updates regarding the supply and use of body-worn cameras by police services throughout Ontario and will report any new developments in this blog.

In the meantime, if you have been charged with a criminal offence or have any questions regarding your legal rights it is recommended that you contact an experienced criminal defence lawyer.  The lawyers at Affleck & Barrison LLP have many years of experience defending a wide variety of criminal offences.  Contact our office today online or at 905-404-1947.  We offer a 24-hour phone service to protect your rights and to ensure that you have access to justice at all times.