Police hold off on joining body camera trend
Deputy chief Lee Foreman shows the current in-car camera system CPS uses. Josh Aldrich/ Camrose Canadian
The Camrose Police Service is not about to jump on board with other police departments in equipping officers with body cameras.
Last month the Medicine Hat Police Service signed on for a pilot project to fully test drive the equipment in use in a small city, while the Calgary Police Service doubled-down and expanded their pilot project.
CPS was not the only department taking a wait-and-see approach as the Edmonton Police Service has discontinued their body camera program after an extensive three-year pilot. Camrose Police Chief Mark Neufeld got to see the full scope of body cameras when he worked with EPS and also spent time the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team. ASIRT investigates incidents and complaints involving serious injury or death, and matters of a serious or sensitive nature, that may have resulted from the actions of a police officer.
He says in concept they are a good idea, but in practice there are many issues.
“It’s much more complex than people think,” said Neufeld. “With some of the issues that have been playing out in the U.S. in some of their communities, it seemed like an obvious fix, and in some of those diverse communities where there was some concern over the way policing was being done, it probably was a good idea … but when you look at it here in Canada, it’s not quite as simple.”
Deputy police chief Lee Foreman said CPS has been keeping close tabs on these projects, but there needs to be more reliable equipment developed and legal issues worked out.
One of the major issues is privacy. While it is legal to tape people in public, when they enter a private residence or knock even knock on a door to a private residence, it does not give them the right to start collecting video evidence in all cases. Then with FOIP request there are issues in redacting non-pertinent evidence.
“The nice thing about the in-car video system is that you are recording in a public arena,” said Foreman. With body worn cameras, you’re walking into people’s dwellings and you’re also capturing people who maybe have no connection to the incident at hand and you have to respect their privacy as well.”
Another major issue is the inability for a camera to pick up a true representation of what an officer is seeing. Because cameras are usually mounted on the chest, if the officer turns their head and witnesses something, the camera likely will not pick it up. It’s a similar situation when an officer is in close contact with a suspect, it is difficult to decipher what exactly is going on.
“All you see is a jacket,” said Neufeld. “It’s clear there’s a struggle going on, but in terms of who’s doing what or what’s occurring during the struggle or what precipitated it, it wasn’t as determinant as people (assume).”
He did add in those situations, it was often the partner’s body camera that is more helpful, providing a better angle and even commentary as a situation unfolds.
CPS has had in-car video systems for approximately 20 years, but even that has proven problematic when it comes to presenting evidence in court. They also do not catch everything and there are times when the technology available to the court does not match the technology the police use, or the technology fails, and that hurts the credibility of the police force.
“It’s frustrating in those cases when you try to implement something like this in order to be more transparent and then it’s funny what people will infer when it doesn’t work,” said Neufeld. “People will infer ‘how convenient is that’ when it’s probably just an IT issue.”
The six-month project in Medicine Hat has five main areas they will be assessing: the cameras’ ability to enhance the collection of evidence, enhance transparency, public trust and confidence; enhance officer accountability and professionalism; to protect officers from unfounded allegations of misconduct, and to de-escalate volatile situations.
“It was important that we did not rush to implement in response to current events or trends, without careful consideration and planning,” said MHPS Chief Andy McGrogan. “We are optimistic that this project will provide us with the necessary information required to determine the merits of service wide deployment.”
In the U.S. and other countries, body cameras are becoming more common as police forces work to rebuild public trust. But they are not always successful and more issues continue to pop up.
The body camera systems are often quite expensive as well, and beyond that, the storage of data adds up in a hurry as well.
Neufeld is keeping an eye to priorities within the department.
According to ASIRT, CPS has only been involved in one file since 2008. There is also a low frequency of major crimes in the city.
However, Neufeld does see the potential for the equipment in the future in targeted areas at events like Big Valley Jamboree.
“There’s some places where it makes a lot of sense to implement it there,” he said. “In Camrose we don’t get a lot of complaints and we don’t have a lot of uses of force per capita. We really have to look at the costs and say ‘is this really where we want to be putting our resources?’”