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),

[2] Toronto Police Service, Toronto Police Service Launches Year-Long Body-Worn Camera Pilot Project (Toronto: Toronto Police Service, May 15, 2015),

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

[4] Sara Faruqi, “Body Worn Cameras Start Rolling,” TPS News, May 15, 2015,

[5] Toronto Police Service, “Body-Worn Cameras,” Toronto Police Service, accessed May 20, 2015,

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

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

[8] Body Worn Camera Pilot Project (Toronto, 2015),

[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,

[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,

[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).


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.

Faruqi, Sara. “Body Worn Cameras Start Rolling.” TPS News, May 15, 2015.

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

Office of the Press Secretary. “Strengthening Community Policing.” The White House, December 1, 2014.

Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. “Guidance for the Use of Body-Worn Cameras by Law Enforcement Authorities – February 2015,” February 18, 2015.

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.

———. Body Worn Cameras: Frequently Asked Questions. Toronto: Toronto Police Service, May 2015.

———. Toronto Police Service Launches Year-Long Body-Worn Camera Pilot Project. Toronto: Toronto Police Service, May 15, 2015.



President Obama Launches Smart Policing Initiative

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President Obama announced the Police Data Initiative today during a speech he delivered in Camden, New Jersey. Restructuring of human resource in the local police department has resulted in significant reductions of violent crime and the distribution of drugs. The President indicated that continued progress could be made through improvements to the force’s information technology management. He announced that the White House brought an ‘elite tech team’ that would work with the Camden police force to enhance their data management, including the integration of 41 separate systems it currently uses. President Obama claimed that data reform would ensure areas of the city that require additional law enforcement resources could be identified quicker and served better. Moreover, it was suggested that better data management will aid police forces in developing trust with local communities. Camden is one of twenty-one cities participating in the initiative:


White House Police Data Initiative Cities 2015 051715_policing_map










According to the Office of Science and Technology Policy: “The lessons learned in Camden can help law enforcement around the country both by example and also directly since some of the development work can be shared through open source best practice.” The participating police forces will have two primary divisions of labour:

  • “Using open data to increase transparency, build community trust, and support innovation
  • “Better using technology, such as early warning systems, to identify problems, increase internal accountability, and decrease inappropriate use of force

Code for America is helping the police departments release 101 data sets that have not been accessible to the public until now. There are several open data practices included in the press release, including the creation of maps and hackathons. According to the release, Code for America is working with the International Association of Police Chiefs and the Police Foundation to “grow a community of practice for law enforcement agencies and technologists around open data and transparency in police community interactions.”

The initiative will also develop predictive analytics to identify ‘at risk’ officers in an effort to intervene before they break code of conduct. This is clearly a response to the recent media attention to excessive use of force, which President Obama gestured to in his mention of the situation in the City of Ferguson, among others. The University of Chicago is sending five data science scholars to several of the participating cities to enable them to develop analytics that will predict potentially problematic officers. The Department of Justice and other partners will apparently work with universities and other research firms to conduct research on body cameras and analytics of the video they will produce.

President Obama asserted that technology is only part of the solution in his address. He pointed to the need for society as a whole to address issues of race and racialization. President Obama also suggested the trend of increased sentencing for non-violent drug offence was usurping valuable financial resources that should be redirected from incarceration and invested in social programs. He also called attention to the social costs to communities that struggle as a result of broken homes. In his address the President was clearly acknowledging concerns about the use of force by local law enforcement agencies across the country. A point that is underscored by new policies designed to de-militarize local police forces.


Seattle appoints Amazon VP to the police department

The city of Seattle’s Police Department has appointed 4 new senior managers including the surprise choice of Greg Russel, a VP of online retail giant, Amazon.

What does this have to do with smart cities? There are two main implications. The first is simply to do with the signalling of the clear importance of big(ger) data in policing. Russell’s job as Chief Information Officer will deal with everything from digital records to  “the rapidly expanding use of patrol-car video and body cameras”, which as the article notes has caused problems for police departments in developing “a way to balance the public’s right to know with the privacy rights of individuals.” Policing is increasingly dominated by surveillance-generated data, and analytics that are used to direct limited police resources to where crime is more likely to occur, but there is also the concern generated by the potential for lawsuits around privacy and the growing ‘right to be forgotten’ as well as the use of police-generated video as evidence against the police themselves.

However, the second, and in the long-term perhaps the most significant, implication is that this appointment is just one of the many signs of the increasing importance of relationships between urban governance and tech companies, and the rise of the ‘Chief Information Officer’, which is at the heart of the smart city agenda. It is not, in this case, that this is any kind of ‘privatization’ or ‘outsourcing’ of police operations, rather that a new kind of career trajectory seems to be opening up that sends tech company executives into urban management. The intangible benefits of such links and the contacts and connections thus created are unlikely to be entirely insignificant, especially given Amazon’s growing move away from its beginnings as an e-retailer and towards being a cloud computing services provider.