While body-worn cameras are being used by some law enforcement agencies in Canada, one B.C. municipality is looking to secure the technology in a move that could be a provincial first.
The City of Burnaby is requesting proposals for the purchase, implementation, storage and support of wearable body cameras for bylaw officers, with the goal of providing front-line safety and increasing transparency with citizens.
A Dec. 4, 2020 Request for Proposal (RFP) states that Body Worn Camera Systems (BWC) will allow officers to video and audio record their daily activities while on duty, and for the recordings to be preserved and accessed by designated personnel.
“Body Worn Cameras will enhance the department’s ability to accurately capture events as they occur,” reads the RFP.
Body-warn cameras were tested in a 2019 pilot program, and the City of Burnaby directed that the use of BWC continue for the bylaw bike patrol and be expanded outside of park space to include warming centers and public streets.
With bylaw officers now tasked with enforcing COVID-19 provincial health orders, the body cams would be used by all bylaw enforcement staff, including bike patrol officers and parking patrollers.
Former B.C. Solicitor General Kash Heed called Burnaby’s decision progressive and wise.
“I think this is not only good from an accountability point of view but certainly gathering evidence for whatever they are looking at or attempting to investigate.”
Heed said body cams played a critical role in the quick arrest of the two suspects accused of murdering Calgary Police officer Sgt. Andrew Harnett, who was killed after being struck and dragged by a vehicle during a traffic stop on New Year’s Eve.
Since April 2019, the Calgary Police Service has deployed 1,150 Axon Body 2 cameras. It is the only police force in the country that has equipped all of its front-line officers with the tool.
In a move to address allegations of racism and brutality in policing, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last June that he wants the RCMP to use body-worn cameras.
Trudeau also pledged to push Canada’s premiers to outfit provincial and municipal police forces with the technology many U.S. law enforcement agencies have already implemented.
B.C. established standards for the use of body-worn cameras in 2019 but the systems designed to record and retain video have not been widely adopted.
“There’s a lot we don’t know about these cameras,” SFU Criminology Assistant Professor Dr. Rylan Simpson told Global News.
Simpson said the research is limited because body-worn cameras haven’t really been tested outside of policing, but he believes the “expensive technology” could be applied to bylaw enforcement in some capacity.
“Both entities have some authority, both can impose consequences upon people and of course, those consequences can be contested,” said Simpson.
“There’s certainly a possibility that it could help to alleviate unfounded or otherwise exaggerated claims on again, either side.”
The City of Burnaby intends to award a body-worn camera contract for a two-year term, with options to extend it to five years.
According to the RFP, cameras are expected to be deployed to all officers in early 2021.
“I can guarantee you they will have that piece of equipment in place, worn by their bylaw officers before we even have any police agency in B.C. seriously considering it,” Heed said.