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Durham Regional Police Service engages public about body-worn cameras

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This past summer, select officers with Durham Regional Police started wearing body cameras as part of a pilot project. Police hosted a virtual town hall on Thursday to answer questions about the audio-video recording devices. Aaron Streck reports.

This past summer, some officers with Durham Regional Police Service started wearing body cameras as part of a pilot project.

On Thursday, DRPS hosted an online town hall to answer questions about the audio-video recording devices.

Police officers in many parts of the country have added body worn cameras to their arsenal.

READ MORE: Toronto police announces procurement process for body-worn cameras

Since June, almost 80 Durham police officers from the west division and regional traffic enforcement have been wearing the devices, joining other police detachments throughout the world.

“You are seeing a trend nationally and internationally towards this technology,” said Sgt. Jason Bagg, DRPS body-worn camera project manager. “It’s widely seen as a real benefit to transparency and accountability.”

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“When the public actually recognizes and knows that the officers are wearing the body-worn camera, the cameras are actually fairly well-received by residents,” said Insp. Jeff Haskins of the Durham Regional Police Service.

WATCH: Body-cam footage shows police saving man from flaming car before it explodes

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Body-cam footage shows police saving man from flaming car before it explodes

Nine months later, officers have captured over 20,000 videos, with nearly half being used as evidence in criminal investigations.

“That’s a video each time one of those members has engaged in investigative contact. Each video may capture multiple members of the community — some of those are out in the public where we’re capturing a lot of information and we have to be cognizant of our responsibility to safeguard,” said Sgt. Bagg.

As part of the year-long pilot project, DRPS held a virtual town hall to answer questions and concerns from the public.

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“It helps to inform residents as to the technology that’s being used in their community and how that technology will actually impact the police service that we provide,” said Insp. Haskins.

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“It’s a big change,” said Sgt. Bagg. “I’m on camera right now, taking this camera into someone’s living room at probably their worst day of their life. It does have a significant privacy impact, so we’re looking for some feedback.”

Insp. Haskins says that while the cameras create more work for frontline officers, it hasn’t affected productivity or call response.

“The officers have actually adapted quite well to using the body cameras as part of their duties,” said Insp. Haskins.

So far, the project is on time and on budget. Once the year is up and a full review is in, the Durham Police Services Board, Durham Regional Council and residents will determine whether to keep using the cameras.