EPS to trial body-worn cameras as part of provincial mandate

Click to play video: 'Edmonton police will try out body cameras'
Edmonton police will try out body cameras
WATCH: The Alberta government announced it will require police in the province to wear body cameras, but now many questions are being raised about the logistics — such how the data will be stored and privacy protected. Sarah Reid looks into that. – Jul 5, 2023

Edmonton police will soon be rolling out a new bodycam program after the province’s March mandate that all police officers in Alberta must now wear the small cameras.

The Edmonton Police Service will start a six-month trial starting July 10, in which a total of 35 officers working with transit and community safety teams, the Healthy Streets Operations Centre community safety teams and the high-risk encampment teams will wear cameras. These teams were chosen intentionally to provide a broad scope of policing, according to the EPS.

Different technologies will be used to determine which equipment works best and then a proposal will be sent out to that camera vendor.

The EPS tried body-worn cameras nearly a decade ago between 2011 and 2014, however, police found the lack of technological evolution left much to be desired in terms of the added efficacy of the cameras.

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In-car cameras were also being trialled by the EPS starting in 2022, but that project has been put on hold with the resources reallocated to body-worn cameras.

“The goal of body worn cameras are multifaceted, but overall aim to create a more efficient accountability process and reduce use of force incidents for both officers and the public,” reads an EPS press release issued Wednesday.

“Some of the anticipated outcomes include increasing transparency, reducing unfounded allegations of police misconduct, increasing public trust and confidence in the EPS and enhancing officer accountability and professionalism.”

Small, black cameras — which are about the size of a deck of cards — will be fixed to the front of officers’ uniforms and will start recording when an interaction begins. Officers are not legally required to tell people they are being recorded, however, the EPS says officers will do their best to inform the public if and when they are being recorded during an interaction.

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Officers will be required to remove their cameras after their shift and the footage will be uploaded to a secure storage location.

Police have the ability to turn off the camera if needed, for example, in situations involving children or in which a sexual assault is being described, said Supt. Derek McIntyre at a news conference Wednesday.

“We understand in Edmonton there’s a sensitivity to police interaction with vulnerable populations and that’s why there was real intentionality around which teams would be trialing the body-worn cameras,” said McIntyre.

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“The video and the audio cannot be edited by the police members who do capture (the footage) … It becomes very level-setting for what the entire interaction looked like,” said McIntyre. “We’ve seen, (on) social media primarily, clipped versions of interactions with the police service, which escalates the level of sensitivity of our interactions with vulnerable populations and we just want to bring transparency to the whole situation.”

EPS is already a client of the camera vendor, who is lending the body cameras to the force for trial, making it a low-cost trial, explained McIntyre.

Under the Freedom of Information Act, bodycams are allowed to collect information from the public.

Lawyer Tom Engel said there are benefits to body cameras for all parties involved — police and community members.

“They can de-escalate on both sides, ” said the chair of the Criminal Trial Lawyers’ Association’s policing committee. “They can de-escalate the police officers who know they’re being recorded … they’re bound to de-escalate situations, and if they don’t, they know they’re going to be in some trouble.

“And they can de-escalate any aggressive citizen and try to get them to behave properly, because they too know they’re being audio-video recorded.”

Engel said the footage captured, both audio and visual, acts as an independent record of the situation and can save hours of court time.

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“The credibility of the video is not going to be called into question,” he said.

As for the program overall, Engel said EPS is behind other law enforcement agencies in the province when it comes to having a fully functioning car or body camera program.

“It’s completely unacceptable that we are in the second-largest city in the province and we’re embarking on yet another private pilot project,” he said.

“Why do you have to have another pilot project when these other law enforcement agencies — Calgary, predominantly — have used them for years? It’s unacceptable.”

The Calgary Police Service uses both dashcams and body cameras, as do RCMP units throughout the province.

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