Vancouver police officers could soon find themselves packing a high-tech new piece of gear, if the city’s new mayor has his way.
At his first public press conference Monday, mayor-elect Ken Sim pledged to equip Vancouver police officers with body-worn cameras 24-7 by the summer of 2025.
“It actually approves accountability, not only for the police officers but also for the public at large,” Sim said.
Body-worn cameras have become a regular feature of policing in the United States, and police forces in Calgary and Toronto have already adopted them.
The RCMP is preparing to roll out 12,500 of the cameras across 700 detachments, an initiative estimated to cost $131 million over five years.
One municipal police service in British Columbia, the Delta Police Department, is also piloting the technology, with 15 of the units in service.
The Vancouver Police Department says it’s open to talking about cameras, but that questions about privacy for both officers and the public must be addressed.
The Vancouver Police Union said Monday it was supportive tools that can improve oversight and accountability, but that the cost of the technology must also be factored in.
Union president Ralph Kaisers said when the VPD studied the issue several years ago, it found it would need to hire up to 25 digital forensics experts to vet and treat footage for privacy issues.
The cost of the cameras themselves, along with maintenance and data storage must also be factored in.
“One of the questions I will have in trying to implement a body-worn camera system here in Vancouver is how and where are the costs of implementing that going to be taken care of,” he said.
“And I would assume ABC and Mayor Ken Sim would be looking at the budgeting.”
The Canadian Civil Liberties Association also weighed in on the concept, arguing if police want to record the public, they first need to ensure there aren’t any less intrusive methods that could achieve the same objectives.
The use of cameras should also be approved in consultation with the communities who will be on their receiving end, and who have historically faced systemic racism, said Brenda McPhail, director of the CCLA’s technology and surveillance program.
Policing issues in Canada and the United States are different, she added, and said there is no solid Canadian evidence they lead to better behaviour among police or the public.
“Decisions about police use of invasive surveillance technology shouldn’t be talking points in a political campaign,” she said.
“These tools are not magic, they are not merely by strapping them on to an officer going to serve the goal of enhanced police accountability.”
B.C.’s civilian-led police watchdog, however, applauded the plan.
Independent Investigations Office Chief Civilian Director Ron MacDonald said he’s been pushing for body-worn cameras in the province for years.
The proliferation of smartphones with high-definition cameras has changed the public’s perception and tolerance on privacy issues, he said, and there is an expectation those tools also be incorporated into police accountability.
“Privacy issues always have to take a balance with other issues,” he told Global News.
Certainly where there is an investigation ongoing into a serious harm or death investigation, the privacy issues don’t, I believe, play a role in any way as significant as the need for a thorough, complete investigation that video would assist in.”
Sim has yet to estimate a cost to implement the technology or how the city would pay for them.