“It’s a matter of transparency and accountability.”
That was Alain Babineau’s main argument during a press conference Tuesday morning, regarding the police use of body cameras.
Babineau works with the Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations and was with other activists and Montreal’s opposition politicians, pushing once again for city administration to have Montreal police wear the devices.
In 2016, the city and the police service conducted a pilot project in which 78 officers were issued body cameras for seven months.
Based on the police report on the project, the city cited cost as one reason the they were reluctant to issue the devices permanently.
“Hundreds of millions of dollars over the coming decades, and that you’d only end up with fragmentary video evidence, I think we have to question the cost-benefit ratio involved,” Coun. Alex Norris, head of the city’s public security commission, said when the report was issued in 2019.
But on Tuesday, advocates said the study isn’t credible, arguing that cost estimates are too high.
“The implementation is supposedly $17.4 million,” scoffed opposition City Councillor Marvin Rotrand, “and the annual cost is $24 million.”
He claims that a six-month counter-analysis he commissioned shows that the cost can be much lower.
Independent researcher Sarah Gagnon-Turcotte, who authored the report, told Global News that the police didn’t explore all cost-cutting options.
“My report is mostly trying to show to the elected officials that there are ways to cut the cost of the programme,” she explained.
One discrepancy she pointed to in the Montreal police’s analysis is their estimate that it would need 10 times more personnel than Toronto police.
“Why do we have this huge difference between 122 employees on one side and 12 employees on the other side?” Gagnon-Turcotte questioned.
Montreal police, meanwhile, say they are neither for or against body cams and that it’s not up to them to decide if the tools will be used.
“Because there are costs associated with it and there could be impacts also with other partners, well, the decision resides with the Public Safety Commission,” said police spokesperson André Durocher.
In a statement to Global News, Rosannie Filato, the city’s executive committee member in charge of public safety, said that “the conclusions of the report go well beyond budgetary considerations.
“We have always expressed our openness to reconsider handheld cameras as the technology evolves.”
Rotrand said he plans to table a motion at council Feb. 24 to have body cams for police roll out as of January 2021.
Babineau believes it’s crucial for the cameras to be implemented to rebuild public trust in the police. He said when civilians have to resort to using their own body cams to record their interactions with police, there’s a problem.
“It’s a serious thing for them to do, and it shouldn’t be that way,” he stressed.