The Situation Room – Body cameras should be standard for law enforcement, security

Mac Olsen

The Edmonton Police Service (EPS) and Calgary Police Service (CPS) are taking different approaches to the use of body cameras, but I appreciate the importance of these devices.

The Edmonton Journal had a story about this issue on Sept. 11, noting that EPS ran a pilot project in 2014, which is now discontinued while EPS waits to see the results of other police services before deciding how to proceed.

There was really no difference before cameras came in and after they started using cameras,” said Erik Laming, a doctoral student at the University of Toronto.

The CPS, on the other hand, has decided to expand their use of the device, with purchase of 250 more, the Journal story continues.

The Calgary Police Service remains committed to the use of body-worn cameras,” says CPS Deputy Chief Bob Ritchie. “The cameras raise public trust, assist in gathering evidence, keep officers accountable and protect them from unfounded claims of misconduct, and can de-escalate interactions between police and the public,” he adds.

There was an issue compromising an officer’s safety and the units were recalled in February 2016, however, according to the Edmonton Journal story, the CPS will not elaborate

I can’t see how anyone can question the viability of using police body cameras though the Edmonton Police Service may have reservations about their use.

I agree with Ritchie position that body cameras are an essential tool for police to use at crime scenes and in apprehending suspects or during a confrontation with a member of the public.

And with rules in place regarding proper use, they will provide an unvarnished account of police interactions with others. Moreover, video footage from the police body cameras has to meet admissibility requirements just like any other evidence in court proceedings.

And these videos can certainly counter those posted on social media that construe a one-sided view against the police, such as groups that incite violence and bait the police into responding with force – such as the ‘Antifa’ groups.

The footage we see on social media might then be discredited because the police body camera video of an incident offers a far more accurate view of the facts. Still, I can’t say that for all videos made by private citizens, as I will show here later.

To counter the critics of body cameras, some police services already use video cameras in their vehicles, such as the RCMP.

Three years ago, in Falher Provincial Court, I saw video footage from an RCMP vehicle’s dashboard camera of an accused male who led police on a high-speed chase out of Falher. The video offered compelling evidence supporting the Crown’s case against the accused.

So don’t tell me that body cameras won’t make a difference to police in their day-to-day duties because when an officer is accused of wrongdoing, that video evidence will help in investigations and court proceedings.

One recent shooting in Edmonton involving an officer is a primary example of where the body camera should be used.

On Sept. 9, EPS officers got into a shootout with a man near Groat Road and 113 Avenue in Edmonton. The man died and the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team is now investigating the matter.

It’s unfortunate the officers involved in the shooting weren’t wearing body cameras. Such video evidence could have served to aid ASIRT in their investigation, to help determine if the officers’ actions were justified.

Police body cameras should have been used in another incident 10 years ago. At the Vancouver International Airport on Oct. 14, 2007, Robert Dziekanski arrived from Poland. Speaking only Polish and unable to communicate Dziekanski became agitated and several RCMP members used their Tasers on him, with fatal results.

A passenger at the airport videoed the incident, which caused a public furor against the RCMP’s handling of the incident. The video, posted on YouTube, shows the reactions of others in a waiting area, as well as Dziekanski’s interactions with them and the RCMP.

You hear Dziekanski scream as he’s Tasered and struggling against the police. What you can’t hear is the police interactions with him.

Had the officers involved in the incident been wearing body cameras, you would have gotten their perspective as well.

This alone wouldn’t have changed the tragic outcome or diminished the criticism against the RCMP for their conduct. But it certainly could have added another dimension at the inquiry into Dziekanski’s death.

It’s not just law enforcement services that should be required to use them as standard equipment. Armoured car guards should also be required to wear them, as should security personnel at all highly sensitive facilities (e.g., prisons). This way, if there are incidents of violence and misconduct is suspected there is a video for use in any subsequent investigation.

Given incidents like these, I don’t see how any law enforcement agency or security service can justify declining the use of body cameras. It’s for their benefit, especially when allegations of wrongdoing arise.

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