Petition for Halifax police to adapt body-worn cameras shows demand for accountability

Body-worn cameras are already worn by Calgary police officers. Courtesy: Axon Public Safety Canada

The killing of George Floyd, a Black man from Minneapolis, has renewed conversation about adapting body-worn cameras in Halifax Regional Police (HRP).

Erin Johnson, a 27-year-old living in the city, created a petition calling for HRP to be equipped with body-worn cameras.

The petition was created a day before the Halifax rally in solidarity for the Black Lives Matter movement on Monday, and in protest of police brutality.

Click to play video: 'Halifax activists respond to U.S. anti-racism protests'
Halifax activists respond to U.S. anti-racism protests

As of Tuesday afternoon, the petition has over 8,200 signatories.

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“This just really demonstrates public demand in Halifax, to find ways to keep police accountable for their actions,” says Johnson as she remembered  the story of a Black 15-year-old boy from Bedford who was violently arrested by an HRP officer in February.

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The incident led to questions over HRP’s commitment to improving its relationship with Black Nova Scotians.

Johnson says she made the petition because it seemed like a tangible way to take action for police accountability in her community.

Halifax-based poet and activist El Jones says she is glad that young people are organizing in support of the movement.

“I think there’s a lot of energy in this city where people really are looking for solutions, and I think that’s really positive to see,” says Jones.

“It’s really significant to see energy that I don’t think we’ve seen before.”

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But, Jones says she is not sure if body cameras are the way to go.

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Adapting body cameras would mean the city putting more money into police.

In 2017, the Halifax board of police commissioners released a report that outlined its decision to not adapt body-worn video (BWV).

The report estimated over $1.4 million per year in direct and labour costs for a five-year pilot with 50 cameras.

Jones says cameras would help with holding officers accountable, but it wouldn’t change their behavior.

“We’ve been seeing Black death on camera for years now… yet it still continued, so I don’t think cameras will stop this.”

She says “we rely upon the police to do these things that are not their job really, like dealing with homeless people and people in crisis. They’re not equipped for that, and then when we call upon them to do that, people end up dying.”

Erin Johnson agrees BWVs are not a proactive solution, and says: “it’s an independent piece of evidence that could be used to at least bring racist behavior in our police department to light, any unjust behavior really.”

Jones believes introducing technology will only change the way Black people are policed, not the fact that they are.

In February, HRP told Global News one of its officers was using a controversial facial recognition software.

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HRP spokesperson John MacLeod said in an email statement Tuesday:

“We have looked at body cameras in the past and recognize they have the potential to play a role. In our initial report on body cameras, we had outlined that we had not seen enough evidence of their effectiveness at the time.

However, we will continue to monitor their potential use. It is also important to note that body cameras entail a significant financial investment and that is a decision that will require broader evaluation and support.”

He told Global News he was unable to comment further.

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Instead of calling for the city to fund BWVs and other technology, El Jones says she wants to see money reallocated to community resources like mental health support, addiction treatment, creating jobs and housing.

Johnson says if police were to reconsider adapting BWV, the funding for this would ideally come from redistributing HRP’s current budget.

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“The Halifax Regional Police just bought a tank… I know people have a lot of different opinions on that but I think it’s of more value to treat your citizens properly,” she says.

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