After months of training, 100 Toronto police officers will begin wearing cameras on Monday, May 18, as part of a year-long pilot project.
“We believe that body-worn cameras are a valuable piece of technology. It will provide an unbiased, accurate account of our interactions with the public,” Staff Supt. Tom Russell told reporters during a news conference at police headquarters Friday.
“This project has the potential to strengthen policing, and I think it has the potential to strengthen our relations with our community and enhance public trust.”
Three different cameras, ranging from $600 to $1000 each, will be tested. The officers involved are members of the TAVIS rapid response team, traffic services motor squad, 55 Division primary response unit and 43 Division community response unit.
“The body-worn cameras will be activated every time an officer responds to a call for service or is investigating an individual,” said Russell, adding the officers are expected to notify the public when activating the cameras “as soon as reasonably possible.”
Police have developed specific procedures and guidelines on when the cameras are to be activated. The officers have also been trained on issues of privacy and human rights.
Russell said the cameras will not be recording when officers have casual or informal conversations with members of the public.
“We’re not conducting surveillance on people or the community, so the officers are not going to be activating the camera and simply walking through a community and surveilling people,” he noted.
Police have also delivered more than 20,000 surveys, including 10,000 in southeast Scarborough’s 43 Division, to get community feedback.
The pilot project costs $500,000, which includes the cameras, the software and the secure storage.
Two of the camera models are set up with a 30-second pre-event buffer, meaning when the officer activates the device it will also capture the previous 30 seconds of video, but not audio. Each camera can record for 32 hours. Officers don’t have the ability to alter, edit or delete any recording.
“It’s a great investigative tool, and I think it helps with transparency with the public,” said Const. Christian Philipp, who is one of 12 officers from 43 Division wearing a camera.
There is a concern some people may be less inclined to speak with an officer with a body-worn camera.
“That’s certainly not what we want, we want to interact with the public,” said Staff Sgt. Peter Moreira, manager of the 43 Division community response unit.
He added an important component of the project is to educate the public on the rules governing the initiative.
The police service worked with the Information and Privacy Commissioner, the Ontario Human Rights Commission, the Ministry of the Attorney General and the Toronto Police Association to develop those rules.
Russell noted a number of reports and inquests recommended Toronto Police explore the use of body-worn cameras.
The camera data will be stored for one year unless it is needed for an investigation or court.