Toronto Police Launches Body Worn Camera Pilot

 

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*UPDATE: On May 27 the OHRC posted a press release indicating they were not consulted by Toronto Police, see click here to read the update

The Toronto Police Service has launched a yearlong pilot project to evaluate the utility of body-worn cameras at a cost of CAN$500,000.[1] The pilot involves 100 police officers testing three varieties of body-worn cameras in their daily work.[2] Technology firms Panasonic, Mediasolv and Integrys manufacture the body-worn cameras being trialed.[3] The project was developed in response to recommendations made in a variety of reports, including one submitted last summer by Justice Iacobucci who suggested the technology could enhance the transparency of policing for officers and citizens alike.[4] The Toronto Police Service claims, “Body-worn cameras are unbiased, reliable eyewitnesses to community interactions with the police. They will provide reassurance to community members and police officers”.[5] Area Field Superintendent Tom Russell sees a range of opportunities for using the body-worn camera including apprehension under the Mental Health Act, arrests, engaging with persons in crisis, crimes in progress, and public disorder.[6] The police service pushed out details relating to how the officers are being trained to use the new technology, and how data the devices collect will be handled, through press releases, blog posts, online videos and an FAQ sheet.

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A photo of the devices being tested during the Toronto Police Service body-worn camera pilot project.[7]

According to a video published by the service, officers received 32 hours of training to prepare for deployment of the body-worn camera technology, which included theoretical and technical instruction.[8] The service states it consulted the Privacy Commissioner of Ontario and the Ontario Human Rights Commission during the design stage of the pilot.[9] In February the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada released a report on body worn camera use in policing, which states there are ‘serious implications for individuals’ right to privacy’.[10] Staff Sergeant Michael Barsky, who is the project lead, said, “It is very important we protect the privacy interests of the citizens of Toronto as well as consider the human rights issues that may arise”.[11] A review of the FAQ document published by the Toronto Police Service suggests some consideration has been given to issues of privacy in general, and to the capture, storage and review of body-camera data in particular.

Officers have been instructed to start recording when they begin an investigation and stop recording when the investigation completes or ceases to produce relevant information.[12] When entering a private home, officers are required to stop recording if asked to do so by the occupant.[13] While recording, data collected cannot be ‘accessed, reviewed, edited or deleted’.[14] All data is downloaded from the device at the end of the shift, encrypted and stored on a server owned and operated by the Toronto Police Service for a period of one year unless it is required for an investigation.[15] After that point, only the officer who collected the data and their supervisor will have access to the recording, and only select members of a technical team will be able to edit it. Citing R v Stinchcombe, the FAQ says all data will be included in disclosure for court proceedings.[16]

The Toronto Police Service is not an early adopted of body worn video (BWV) in Canada. In 2011, the Edmonton Police started the first federally funded BWV project in Canada, which ran for four years.[17] Dr. Emily Stratton, co-ordinator of the BWV project for Edmonton Police Service, claims that when individuals are under the influence of drugs or medication they are either indifferent to, or excited by, the use of BWV.[18] However, it is not only the public that BWV use is intended to modify. Barack Obama recently committed US$250 million to supply the nation with 50,000 body-worn cameras, an initiative sparked by a wave of citizen deaths involving police officers, most notably Freddie Gray of Ferguson.[19] Obama’s pledge came at the same time researchers at Cambridge University published their findings from a case study in Rialto, Calfornia, which showed a dramatic decrease in use of force by officers and a large reduction in grievances filed against officers.[20]

The work of Ariel, Farrar and Sutherland in the Rialto case is promising. However, the mixed result of BWCs in different cases[21] speaks directly to the inherently ambiguous nature of surveillance.[22] There is danger in framing BWCs, as one of the Toronto Police Service project members has, as some kind of ‘truth tech’ that will provide ‘unbiased’ and ‘reliable’ testimony. It is also dangerous to suggest that BWCs can act as some kind of technological cloak that will protect innocent citizens from abuses of power exercised by rogue police officers. Law enforcement agencies must address the underlying issues that have brought policing to a moment where a technological silver bullet is in desperate need. Without a commitment to reforming human resource issues that propagate excessive use of force by police officers, BWCs will achieve little.

[1] Toronto Police Service, Body Worn Cameras: Frequently Asked Questions (Toronto: Toronto Police Service, May 2015), http://www.torontopolice.on.ca/media/text/20150421-body_worn_camera_faq.pdf.

[2] Toronto Police Service, Toronto Police Service Launches Year-Long Body-Worn Camera Pilot Project (Toronto: Toronto Police Service, May 15, 2015), http://torontopolice.on.ca/newsreleases/31840.

[3] Toronto Police Service, Body Worn Cameras: Frequently Asked Questions.

[4] Sara Faruqi, “Body Worn Cameras Start Rolling,” TPS News, May 15, 2015, http://tpsnews.ca/stories/2015/05/body-worn-cameras-start-rolling/.

[5] Toronto Police Service, “Body-Worn Cameras,” Toronto Police Service, accessed May 20, 2015, http://www.torontopolice.on.ca/bodyworncameras/.

[6] Faruqi, “Body Worn Cameras Start Rolling.”

[7] Toronto Police Service, “Body-Worn Cameras.”

[8] Body Worn Camera Pilot Project (Toronto, 2015), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UKY3scPIMd8&feature=youtube_gdata_player.

[9] Toronto Police Service, “Body-Worn Cameras.”

[10] Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, “Guidance for the Use of Body-Worn Cameras by Law Enforcement Authorities – February 2015,” February 18, 2015, https://www.priv.gc.ca/information/pub/gd_bwc_201502_e.asp#ftn7.

[11] Faruqi, “Body Worn Cameras Start Rolling.”

[12] Toronto Police Service, Body Worn Cameras: Frequently Asked Questions.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Royal Canadian Mounted Police, “Does Body Worn Video Help or Hinder de-Escalation?,” Royal Canadian Mounted Police Gazette, 2014.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Office of the Press Secretary, “Strengthening Community Policing,” The White House, December 1, 2014, https://www.whitehouse.gov/embeds/footer.

[20] Barak Ariel, William A. Farrar, and Alex Sutherland, “The Effect of Police Body-Worn Cameras on Use of Force and Citizens’ Complaints Against the Police: A Randomized Controlled Trial,” Journal of Quantitative Criminology, November 19, 2014, 1–27, doi:10.1007/s10940-014-9236-3.

[21] Royal Canadian Mounted Police, “Does Body Worn Video Help or Hinder de-Escalation?”

[22] David Lyon, Surveillance Studies: An Overview (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2007).

References:

Ariel, Barak, William A. Farrar, and Alex Sutherland. “The Effect of Police Body-Worn Cameras on Use of Force and Citizens’ Complaints Against the Police: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” Journal of Quantitative Criminology, November 19, 2014, 1–27. doi:10.1007/s10940-014-9236-3.

Body Worn Camera Pilot Project. Toronto, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UKY3scPIMd8&feature=youtube_gdata_player.

Faruqi, Sara. “Body Worn Cameras Start Rolling.” TPS News, May 15, 2015. http://tpsnews.ca/stories/2015/05/body-worn-cameras-start-rolling/.

Lyon, David. Surveillance Studies: An Overview. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2007.

Office of the Press Secretary. “Strengthening Community Policing.” The White House, December 1, 2014. https://www.whitehouse.gov/embeds/footer.

Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. “Guidance for the Use of Body-Worn Cameras by Law Enforcement Authorities – February 2015,” February 18, 2015. https://www.priv.gc.ca/information/pub/gd_bwc_201502_e.asp#ftn7.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police. “Does Body Worn Video Help or Hinder de-Escalation?” Royal Canadian Mounted Police Gazette, 2014.

Toronto Police Service. “Body-Worn Cameras.” Toronto Police Service. Accessed May 20, 2015. http://www.torontopolice.on.ca/bodyworncameras/.

———. Body Worn Cameras: Frequently Asked Questions. Toronto: Toronto Police Service, May 2015. http://www.torontopolice.on.ca/media/text/20150421-body_worn_camera_faq.pdf.

———. Toronto Police Service Launches Year-Long Body-Worn Camera Pilot Project. Toronto: Toronto Police Service, May 15, 2015. http://torontopolice.on.ca/newsreleases/31840.

 

 

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