“This is a textbook case as to why I have been advocating for body-worn cameras and I’m now fast-tracking to the best of my ability to allow that process to speed up,” Saunders told reporters Friday afternoon.
“All parties need a thorough investigation so we all have the answers to the truth.”
The comments come after a multi-year examination of body-worn cameras by Toronto police. The service conducted a year-long pilot project that ended in 2016. There was a recommendation to move forward with the deployment of body-worn cameras. Currently no officers with Toronto police utilize body-worn cameras.
However, Toronto police said there is a large cost associated with the rollout of the cameras. At the time, officials said it would cost upwards of $80 million over 10 years with most of the cost relating to data storage fees.
In October 2017, a procurement process was announced to acquire the cameras and it was estimated at the time it would take nearly two years before finalizing a way forward.
When asked about the delay in the rollout of the cameras to frontline officers, Saunders said there have been numerous challenges.
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“It’s not as easy as strapping a camera on and hitting play,” he said.
“You have so many aspects to deal with auditing, with training, with making sure you have equipment that can withstand out in the field the type of dynamics that are involved, with making sure that the batteries last long enough, with making sure that you create the right procedures in place and learning how to tweak those things, with making sure that all of the legal scrutinies that are necessary are put in place.
“I could go on for days to say why it’s complex, but what I do like about it is that there are a multitude of oversights … we embrace the fact we are scrutinized, we want to be good at what we do.”
Friday’s update on the cameras came two days after officers were called to Korchinski-Paquet’s apartment on High Park Avenue.
Knia Singh, a lawyer representing Korchinski-Paquet’s family, said her mother, Claudette Beals-Clayton, called 911 because her daughter was in distress over a family conflict and was made out of “safety” and “concern.”
Singh said the two, along with her brother, met police in the hallway leading to their 24th-floor apartment. He said she pleaded with officers to take Korchinski-Paquet to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health for mental health support. Family members said she was also having an epileptic seizure.
When Korchinski-Paquet told officers she needed to use the bathroom, Singh said officers followed her into the apartment unit and that when her brother tried to get her he was stopped. The family was not in the unit while Korchinski-Paquet and police were in the apartment unit.
After a couple of minutes, Singh said Korchinski-Paquet called out a couple of minutes later, “Mom, help. Mom, help. Mom, help.” A short time later, he said the family found out Korchinski-Paquet was on the ground.
Saunders said Toronto police received three calls to 911 Wednesday afternoon from three different people. He said the calls indicated there was an assault and that weapons were present. Saunders said officers and paramedics were dispatched to the scene.
Singh told Global News he didn’t hear the 911 calls referenced by Saunders, but added there were no weapons present when officers arrived and there was no dispute at the time.
The circumstances of the interaction in the unit remained unclear as of Friday. Ontario’s independent police watchdog, the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), launched a probe into the incident.
According to a statement from the SIU, a subject officer and five witness officers were identified and in the process of being interviewed. The agency said interviews with witnesses were conducted and there was a canvass for video footage. Singh called for the preservation of hallway surveillance video footage that could show the moments leading up to Toronto police entering the unit.
When asked about the push by Saunders to expedite the deployment of cameras, Singh said he “applauds” the move but is “disappointed” it wasn’t done sooner.
“Body cameras are something that we know assists police officers’ accountability,” he said.
Meanwhile, Saunders said work is underway to roll out the cameras and associated systems.
“It won’t be to the entire organization, but we’ll be starting that process and going from there.”
— With files from The Canadian Press