Body-worn cameras can help with investigations, says the officer in charge of the Lacombe Police Service, but there are many hurdles to remove before such technology can be implemented.
Police Chief Lorne Blumhagen said the technology may provide additional evidence that would enhance investigations, which would benefit both the public and the police.
There have been demonstrations across the country and around the world since the death of George Floyd, a black man, in Minneapolis last month. A police officer knelt on his neck for several minutes as Floyd repeatedly complained he couldn’t breathe.
That incident was captured on video.
Recently, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he would push premiers and the RCMP to equip police with body-worn cameras. He said it was a relatively simple way to address complaints that officers in Canada treat racialized people unfairly.
The Lacombe Police Service has been looking at such devices since 2017, and although accountability is partly a reason for the interest, it isn’t the only intent.
“Our primary considerations for the use of any technology is how does it enhance the delivery of police services, and enhance overall public safety?
“We would definitely use it for public complaints and oversight, but it would be primarily used for evidence gathering for any investigations, whether it be criminal, or a traffic safety matter, or public complaint type of investigations.”
However, there are many obstacles ahead before such technology can be implemented, including legal challenges, cost, maintenance, resourcing and data storage.
“We are still assessing the want or need, versus how we practically and lawfully use this tool,” he said.
Other concerns relate to privacy of the public, as well as how much and when the evidence would be used in court.
“Then we have issues around when members are utilizing body-worn cameras: when are they turned on and when are they turned off?
“Do you leave it running for the entirety of the shift? Or do you only turn it on during certain portions of the shift?” said the chief, adding a police officer’s work day includes paperwork, public engagement and lunch breaks.
“Then we have issues when we get to court, on what do we disclose? Do we have to disclose the entirety of that members’ day, or a portion of it?”
Depending on what the answers are, that recording may have to be edited, which may require additional resources.
Answering these questions is important to complying with everyone’s charter rights and also rules of evidence for court, said Blumhagen.
“In managing those systems, how many resources do we need to go through hours of video, vet it, and provide the court with video that is required? Some of those areas have not been clearly defined or researched,” said Blumhagen.
If the system is implemented, the agency would also have to be ready for any future civil court challenges that may come with it.
“We are conscientious that if we are going to implement something, that we can be accountable to public, government, the court and our oversight bodies. So in my opinion, we are taking a fairly responsible approach to it.”
The Red Deer RCMP did not immediately respond to an interview request about the use of body-worn cameras.