B.C. police chiefs tout body camera benefits, aim for consistency in implementation

Click to play video: 'B.C. police agencies support body-worn cameras'
B.C. police agencies support body-worn cameras
As body-worn cameras roll out in police departments across the province, chiefs are weighing in on the introduction. As Janet Brown reports, some say it's long overdue and will only improve transparency in policing – Jan 11, 2024

With two municipal police forces in B.C. now using body-worn cameras, the B.C. Association of Chiefs of Police is touting the benefits of the technology, and reassuring the public of its work toward consistency in implementation province-wide.

At a press conference Thursday, the association said widespread adoption of body-worn cameras — or BCWs — will improve transparency and accountability, and likely lead to more timely resolution of complaints against officers.

According to Delta’s deputy police chief, Harj Sidhu, internal and external feedback on the Delta Police Department’s use of the cameras has been positive, with approval ratings of more than 90 per cent. Officers are also learning from the footage they collect, he added.

Click to play video: 'Vancouver police test out the use of body cams'
Vancouver police test out the use of body cams

“It allowed them to look at what they were actually doing out there and have real-time examples of their interactions with the public. It allows our organization to look at whether we’re using use of force appropriately,” Sidhu said.

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Tape collected has also contributed to swift resolution of police complaints and provided additional evidence and context in court proceedings, he said. The force currently has 21 BWCs in the field, but is deploying 16 more this year.

Earlier this year, the Vancouver Police Department’s six-month, 85-camera pilot program came into full swing. Howard Tran, superintendent, called the initiative “long overdue” in an increasingly more complex policing environment that includes the pandemic, gang violence, the toxic drug crisis, and a number of mental health concerns.

Click to play video: 'Gang activity leads to Delta Police extending body worn cameras pilot project'
Gang activity leads to Delta Police extending body worn cameras pilot project

“We know we can never take this for granted,” Tran said. “This technology, until now, has remained largely cost prohibitive. We launched this program after more than a year of planning and extensive consultation with community members … we will use the results from our pilot to determine if we should embarked on a full scale implementation to all frontline VPD police officers.”

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Both Sidhu and Tran sit on the B.C. Association of Chiefs of Police’s BWC committee, which is working towards a standardized framework and consistency in implementation of the gear, if it’s deployed province-wide.

Click to play video: 'The effectiveness of police body cameras'
The effectiveness of police body cameras

RCMP Chief Supt. Holly Turton, co-chair of that committee, said the Mounties have conducted a privacy impact assessment on BWCs to answer questions about whether to blur or redact images of people who appear in footage, but are not associated with an incident, for example.

The RCMP has used BWCs in a limited capacity since 2010, and in 2020, ramped it up. The national policing agency plans to roll out up to 15,000 BWCs to frontline officers across the country after field testing in Nova Scotia, Alberta and Nunavut.

“The RCMP has also created operational policy in relation to body-worn cameras that provides clear guidance and direction to police officers on how body worn cameras are to be employed,” Turton said. “This policy is available to the public on our RCMP website. This will ensure that there won’t be indiscriminate recordings of the public and that officers will be required, when possible, to inform the public when they are recording.”

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Click to play video: 'Project Optic aims to fight crime with home security footage'
Project Optic aims to fight crime with home security footage

British Columbia announce province-wide protocols and standards for the police use of BCWs in 2019, but to date, Public Safety Minister and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth has said the decision to use them will remain in the hands of individual police agencies.

The provincial standards state that a privacy impact assessment must be completed and approved prior to the deployment of the gear. The precise circumstances under which they may be used and information on the policy, must also be made public.

Footage must be stored with restricted access and not altered at any time, and may only be retained for one year from the date it was recorded, then it must be deleted, the rules state.

Click to play video: 'When will police body cameras come to Winnipeg?'
When will police body cameras come to Winnipeg?

At an unrelated press conference Thursday, Premier David Eby said he supports the widespread rollout of BWCs.

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“When police are conducting themselves in public with the authorities and powers that they have, when they’re doing it on camera, this reassures the public that they’re doing it in as a professional way as possible,” Eby said. “It has advantages for the police, has advantages for the public — certainly I’m supportive.”

Critics of body-worn cameras have expressed concerns about their possible use as a surveillance tool, particularly on members of racialized and vulnerable communities, as well as the privacy implications of collection, storage and use of the footage. Some have also cited a lack of concrete evidence that the cameras would achieve their policy objectives, or that other alternatives could not achieve the same outcomes.

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