Front-line Halton region police officers are hoping new technology will relieve frustrations they’ve been having enforcing distracted driving laws.
On Wednesday, the police service revealed 10 new modified cruisers that use side-camera technology expected to improve evidence collection, strengthening court cases involving distracted driving.
Inspector Julie Craddock, who’s overseeing the implementation of the technology, told Global News it’s widely used throughout the U.S. and different agencies across Canada.
Craddock says front- and rear-mounted cameras were added to police vehicles for a pilot project in 2015 and 2016, but feedback from officers revealed that the proximity of the cameras wasn’t efficient in capturing distracted driving events.
“They were getting frustrated that they would lay distracted driving charges, they would be able to see people on their cell phones, but when it came to court they didn’t have any evidence other than just their word and their written notes to support those charges,” said Craddock. “So we ended that pilot project in 2016, pulled all of our equipment back in.”
Craddock said the service went back to the drawing board and began an RFP (request for proposal) process and opted to take on technology from Panasonic, which ended up being side-camera technology.
The result is the in-house modification of 10 existing cruisers split between the traffic enforcement and frontline deployment fleets funded by the region’s capital project money.
“We are, I believe, the first ones in Canada to use side cameras on operational police vehicles,” Craddock said. “We have 10 units that we have been running as part of our project. So right now we are running out of our north in Milton, Georgetown and Halton Hills district.”
In 2018, the force laid over 2,000 distracted driving charges in Halton encompassing Oakville, Burlington, Milton and Halton Hills. Since January 2019, the force has laid over 1,000 distracted driving charges.
Craddock expects more “success in court” with the deployment of the technology, which she says operates when an officer is parked or stopped next to another vehicle.
She says the cameras have the ability to see the glow from a driver’s mobile phone screen, which is then recorded and stored into Halton police servers.
The footage is then held for evidence to be used in a courtroom.
When asked about any potential privacy issues when capturing driver footage, Craddock says that was something they “wove” into the project from the start in terms of the force’s responsibilities in the lawful collection of data.
The cameras have “no enhancements that the officer wouldn’t be able to have with their own eyes,” Craddock said.
“There’s no infrared, there’s no zoom, it really just takes what the officer can see already.”
Craddock says there’s no timeline for modifying other vehicles beyond the initial 10 cars.
“Our plan right now is to get the technology out there,” Craddock said. “The feedback that we’ve received from our officers and from the courts has been very positive, so we’ll take that information and present that through to our chief, our deputies, our command staff, and then you know they will ultimately be the ones that will make the decision whether or not we continue to deploy in-car cameras throughout region Halton.”
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