Big Brother of Big Expense
The city has a new pair of eyes. Toronto Police have started training 100 officers with a new technology last April. The body cameras that will be equipped to officers are a controversial pilot project that has raised eyebrows in the policing community. The pilot project will be implemented in the community sometime this month.
“We are still in our training phase, so technically we don’t have any cameras in the community as of yet. So we have our training at the college right now for the officers that will be a part of the pilot project. So we hope to have those officers out in the community, I believe mid may,” Meghan Gray, a Toronto Police Spokesperson says.
The body cams are stirring up quite a controversy in the Toronto community. One of concerns raised is how these cameras be used by officers. Officers will be able to turn the cameras off and on as they please but the Toronto Police have insisted that they are training officers to properly use this technology.
“They would turn on the camera prior to arriving for a call requiring service or when they start to investigate an individual or individuals in the community.” Gray says.
Gray says that officers from the 43 division, the 55 division, traffic services as well as their first response team who will be the first officers to receive the cameras. After the pilot project the Toronto Police will then assess if the project was successful or not.
“At the end of their pilot project a report will be submitted to the chief with a number of recommendations that could include continuing the pilot project or expanding it service wide or perhaps not moving forward at all. It really depends on the outcome of the pilot project,” Gray says.
Gray also says the community would have input on how the project unfolds.
“We are also doing extensive community surveying. The response from those surveys and the impact we have on our community as well as our other working group partners I think we will have an impact of what recommendations will be put forward. I think at this stage it is too early to tell but we will have to see what happens after the pilot project,” Gray says.
Toronto Police Accountability Coalition is a group that encourages police accountability within the public and often gives recommendations to the Toronto Police Board.
“TPAC has been around for about 13-14 years and our job is to take a critical look at what police are doing in Toronto and trying to suggest better ways of getting better policing.” John Sewell, former Toronto mayor and spokesperson for TPAC, says.
Sewell was advocating for a closer look at the pilot project and was hoping that TPAC could have over looked it before it was implemented. “Our organization appeared before the board last October saying that the board should establish clear guidelines for the pilot project and clear ways of reporting about it and assessments about what was successful and what wasn’t. We thought that doing a pilot project was pretty important. The board said not interested thank you very much and received our letter,” Sewell says.
Sewell’s main problem with the shut down of his proposals was that the Toronto Police wouldn’t know if the pilot project is a success or not. Sewell found that the Toronto Police hadn’t given the public clear guidelines of how the project will be assessed.
“So now the police service is going ahead with a pilot project that we know nothing about. We don’t know who they are putting cameras on, what they are going to do with the tape they get, how they are going to assess whether it is a success,” he says.
“We know absolutely nothing about it and in my opinion the police board is absolutely shocking in not doing its duty on making sure we know this stuff,” Sewell says.
“If you’re going to do a pilot project you want to know what the terms of success is going to be,” he says.
Toronto resident and business owner, Michael Lopez, holds a YouTube account called ML Performance. Lopez has uploaded various videos of himself and friends being routinely stopped by Toronto Police for what he claims was no apparent reason. Lopez, who owns a very unique car, says that he is being targeted by Toronto Police and records every interaction that happens. Lopez says that after months of traffic stops and dropped charges in court that Toronto Police detectives started to follow him. Three weeks later he received a phone call saying he was being charged with public nuisances. He says the charges that are pending are regarding him and his friends driving around at night. He says he thinks that the police body cams are a great idea, if they can’t be shut off.
“I think they should have them. Right now they have the in-car camera with a microphone and I think that’s bullshit because I filed a complaint on one of the officers and when it came down to it, throughout the whole interaction his microphone was on mute,” Lopez says.
" Everything should be constantly on or there isn't any point to the technology."
-Michael Lopez, ML Performance
He says the body cameras now shouldn’t be able to be turned off or muted.
“Everything should be constantly on or there isn’t any point to the technology,” Lopez says.
A year–long study that the California Rialto Police Department conducted found the cameras had reduced violent interactions with police and also complaints against police. The study was authored by Dr. Barak Ariel in 2013,
“In all videotaped incidents in which force was used by officers the subject is clearly seen to be physically-abusive or to physically resisting arrest. On the other hand, in five incidents that have occurred during control shifts (out of a total of seventeen incidents) officers resorted to use force without being physically threatened,” Dr. Ariel says.
The report also noted, “Members of the public with whom the officers communicated were also aware of being videotaped and therefore were likely to be cognizant that they ought to act cooperatively,” Dr. Ariel says.
“However, we did not collect any evidence from these individuals to be able to ascertain this question. In spite of that, the psychological mechanisms ought to be substantially similar, though this is an avenue best explored experimentally in the future,”
The Thunder Bay Police ran a similar project that yielded mixed results. The project seemed to be successful in that it did help with police interactions on both sides, but the cost of data storage, review and personnel, just wasn’t worth it.
“So everyday you come in there is about an hour of downloading the data to the system. Then someone has to go through the camera data and find out what’s prudent to court and store it in ways the it successful to the court so it wont be destroyed, because your tank (data storage) can only be so large so it would just roll over on itself. It would almost take 3-4 more employees for a service our size, full-time, to help run the function,” says Inspector Al McKenzie of the Thunder Bay Police Service.
They only ran one camera, and the officer would turn it on prior to small interactions with the public. McKenzie says that with just three to five incidents where the camera was turned on, they collected up to 6 GB of data. This also can cause problems since the public can request to see this data.
“If you have collected data, people can FOI (Freedom of Information) so they can request the data you have collected. So now you need someone who can redact all the information the people aren’t normally allowed to see.” McKenzie says.
But McKenzie adds that it had been helpful to officers with public interactions. He recalls an incident where a fellow officer received a complaint saying that he had mistreated a woman while dealing with her, but he says that they could go back to the footage and prove that the complaint was false.
“I think what it does is causes people to be more cautious on both sides of the camera; less abusive police and less abusive citizens. If it takes that kind of policing to keep everyone in line, both sides of the law enforcement world, then I am for it.” McKenzie says.