(Canadian OH&S News) — One hundred police officers across Toronto will be outfitted with small digital video cameras that clip onto their uniforms by the end of this month. Officers from the TAVIS Rapid Response Team, Traffic Services Motor Squad, 55 Division and 43 Division began wearing the devices on May 18, as part of the Toronto Police Service’s (TPS) body-worn-camera pilot project.
By introducing body-worn devices, the police force aims to enhance transparency and produce evidence that can be used in legal proceedings. Following the year-long pilot project, the TPS will assess the use of body-worn cameras, taking into account feedback from community members.
“We believe that body-worn cameras are a valuable piece of technology that will provide an unbiased, accurate account of our interactions with the public,” said staff superintendent Tom Russell at a press conference on May 15.
Similar devices have been used by police forces across North America, noted a spokesperson for the TPS. “What we have seen in other jurisdictions is that body-worn cameras tend to have a positive influence on the behaviour of everyone involved,” said Meaghan Gray of the TPS.
“They reduce the number of unsubstantiated complaints against police officers and can deescalate situations from the onset of an interaction.”
But some groups, such as the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, have raised concerns over public privacy issues. For example, it is possible that people may not be aware that they are being recorded or that the actions of unwitting bystanders may also be captured. In sensitive scenarios, such as dealing with domestic violence or people with mental-health issues, the cameras could pose some issues. Finally, having the cameras running may create privacy concerns for the police officers who are wearing them.
The federal privacy commissioner and personal-information protection ombudsmen and commissioners in each province released guidelines in February on the use of body-worn cameras. The commissioners called on authorities to evaluate whether the expected benefits would outweigh the effects on privacy and personal information.
In a statement issued on May 15, the TPS said that officers had been trained in privacy and human rights issues and that the TPS has developed a procedure addressing privacy, retention and disclosure in partnership with the Information & Privacy Commissioner, the Ontario Human Rights Commission, the Ministry of the Attorney General and the Toronto Police Association.
Officers have also been instructed to inform members of the public that they are being videotaped as the cameras will be on standby at all times that officers are on-duty. The video recordings, which are encrypted and downloaded to a secure server, will be stored for one year. All interactions with police for the purpose of a police investigation will be recorded.
“This includes a range of circumstances, including calls for service, investigative detention, apprehension under the Mental Health Act, arrests, interactions with persons in crisis, crimes in progress, investigations, active criminals and public-disorder issues,” Russell explained in a press statement.
While citizens in public settings can object to being recorded, officers will continue to record until the conclusion of that incident, he said. In private settings, such as homes, officers must first obtain consent to record if they have been invited in for a domestic visit. However, in emergency situations or circumstances during which police have a search warrant, officers will leave cameras running, Russell said.
There are currently no known effects to the long-term health of police officers from body-worn camera use, according to Gray.
Members of the community can participate in the community survey on the body-worn camera pilot project at: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/BWC_On-Line_Community_Survey.