New tech, successful in-car program revives Hamilton police pitch for body cameras

Click to play video: 'TTC tests body cameras as part of new use of force policy'
TTC tests body cameras as part of new use of force policy
RELATED: Years after Toronto’s Ombudsman recommended several changes in the wake of incidents involving fare inspectors and passengers, the TTC is adopting new policies taking account of the use of discretion, force and video surveillance. Matthew Bingley reports – Apr 12, 2024

Improved technology and a successful run with in-car camera systems have Hamilton police revisiting the purchase of body-worn cameras at roughly $15.5 million over five years.

Chief Frank Bergen says the initiative is something the police services board have “grappled with” for years, despite research from neighbouring communities, like Toronto, favouring their use.

He says most patrol officers want them since they give “a true, unbiased version of events” amid service calls and investigators see the benefits when working with the court system.

“Also we’re finding that, really, it’s resolving a lot of the court cases … very early on when we’re working with our Crown because you have real-time information,” Bergen said.

During Thursday’s board meeting, the chief suggested the technology could result in fewer use-of-force incidents and ease “distrust with some communities.”

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In June the service hopes to reignite conversation around the cameras when a 2023 use-of-force report is presented.

Bergen revealed that use-of-force incidents between 2023 and 2024 are down and insists body cams would be a “great opportunity” to provide “clear evidence” when those negative interactions occur.

“My goal will be to make sure that our members are equipped with the most current technology in order to do their job,” he said.

“This is important … because this improves public trust.”

The service implemented 78 in-car camera systems to its fleet last year, which has reportedly had a positive impact on transparency and evidence gathering.

Sgt. Scott Moore told board members technology advances over the last decade make the prospect more attractive since entire shifts can now be recorded, uploading and downloading of content is faster, and statements can be captured through audio recordings that can be transcribed by software.

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In all, efficiencies could reduce the time spent on calls allowing officers to engage in other urgent matters.

“It gives us the ability … to take (audio) statements from people,” Moore explained.

“Instead of sitting at an accident scene or robbery and handwriting a statement that may take 30 minutes.”

Hamilton police are already committed to $4.6 million in digital evidence management, which means the board would have to approve another $10.6 million to advance the purchase, which includes leasing new hardware.

Moore said software and hardware from Axon Canada would be “refreshed” every 30 to 60 months during the five-year contract to compensate for wear and technical advancements.

Bergen believes the year-over-year increases for the tech will likely impact the police budget by $100,000 annually.

Almost four years ago, Hamilton police dropped a year-long $250,000 pilot project for 100 officers due to financial reasons opting to monitor Barrie, Guelph and Toronto, which begin putting cameras on their front-line officers.

Calgary became the first major Canadian city to adopt body-worn cameras in 2019.

In August 2020, Toronto Police Service began implementation of the Axon Canada body-worn cameras, putting them on about 20 per cent of officers.

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All patrol officers in every division would be equipped with the technology at the end of 2021 through a five-year $34 million deal with Axon.

A 2014 survey of roughly 12,000 residents in Toronto revealed about 94 per cent endorsed the use of body-worn cameras.

Officers are instructed to turn on the camera’s prior to arriving at a call for service or prior to asking any sort of question.

Cameras are turned off when a call or investigation is complete or when an officer determines the recording is no longer serving a purpose.

In early April, the TTC announced it would be moving ahead with a limited body-worn cameras pilot for some of its staff.

GO Transit fare inspectors are expected to don the cameras soon after a pause to a safety-focused Metrolinx plan was revived.

Bergen says if agreed upon, the rollout won’t happen the next day since budget deliberations will have to take place, as will consultations on what is a complicated program.

“It’s not like hooking your TV up from … Best Buy. This is going to be significant and making sure that we are doing this correctly,” Bergen said.

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