Should body cameras be adopted as a mandatory policy by the police in Canada? This is an interesting debate with two opposed positions. On the one hand, some argue that adoption of police body cameras is an effective step in proving police accountability. Those police organizations which agree with this have proceeded to adopt body cameras as a matter of policy or have engaged in pilot projects. On the other hand, some argue that there are serious implications such as invasion of personal privacy with such adoption. In this blog, a description of the body camera phenomenon is first provided and then followed by an analysis of the current arguments on this topic.
Firstly, whether to use the body camera starts with an examination of how they work in order to reveal the value they can provide for police accountability. The body cameras are “compact GoPro-like devices” (Lorinc, 2014). In more detail, the body cameras are “battery-operated” and can be attached to the police officer’s “vest or helmet” (Lorinc, 2014). However, they can also be shaped like “thick pens” and become “connected to the arms of specially designed glasses” (Lorinc, 2014).
The intended purpose of the body cameras is to record the “interactions” between the police and any individual they come into contact with in any surrounding or circumstance (Lorinc, 2014). According to Ian Lafreniere who is “a spokesman for Montreal police”, he further explains the main goal of using body cameras is to “show both sides of the story” (Shingler, 2014). This prevents any biased or failed record of what went on between the police and civilians, thus ensuring more fair representation of both sides. Currently in Canada, the Calgary police have started using body cameras in August of 2013 (Shingler, 2014). Pilot projects of testing the usage of body cameras have also occurred in Ottawa, Toronto and Edmonton (Shingler, 2014). For Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto, they have started to consider the use of body cameras (Shingler, 2014).
In addition, the recording process is controlled by the police department for the particular city (Sharpe, 2015). The amount of collected data is at “minimum of 30,000 to 500,000 hours” per year for a police officer (Sharpe, 2015). The police department has the exclusive access to the recording data (Sharpe, 2015). In the case that the recording data needs to be used in court, it “would have to transcribed” by the police department (Sharpe, 2015). However, this is a very tedious process as it takes eight times as long to transcribe one hour of recorded data (Sharpe, 2015). Clearly, data processing is time-intensive as the relevant data has to be filtered out of the high volume of data and properly transcribed for justice purposes.
For the production of the body camera technology, there are specific companies in the video surveillance equipment industry that are providers. For example, there are four companies that are currently participating in the study for RCMP’s test on the usage of body cameras (Sharpe, 2015). These four companies include Compusult Limited in Newfoundland, Y&S Engineering Consulting in Quebec, CruiserCam Inc. in Alberta and Pro-Vision Video Systems in Michigan (Sharpe, 2015).
The economic dimensions of body cameras are also examined as they are a crucial consideration for their usage. The costs of body cameras are relatively high. This can be seen from the purchase of 32 cameras from the four companies mentioned above in the RCMP’s test in costing $12,600.96 (Sharpe, 2015). Moreover, one must also consider the extra costs of maintenance, examination and data processing that are also needed. Clearly, the costs of using body cameras impose a financial burden on police departments.
However, important factors of police transparency and accountability have led to the emergence of the body camera phenomenon. In terms of transparency, the body cameras can help to alert police to be “more self-aware about using force against vulnerable individuals” (Lorinc, 2014). This is needed because there are cases where police mistreat individuals, such as threatening the homeless to behave or he would be tied to a “pole” (Shingler, 2014). Thus, body cameras help to decrease police misconduct and mistreatment of any people, especially disadvantage ones. In terms of police accountability, the body cameras “allows for observation after the fact” (Reisig & Kane, 2014). With the rise of technology, the body cameras help to provide more accurate accounts of what have happened between the police and individuals. As a result, this leads to higher police accountability for officers to be fully responsible for their words and actions.
Upon analysis of the current arguments on the police usage of body cameras, the major proponents calling for the use of body cameras as an accountability measure include police themselves and judges. From the police perspective, they believe that it shows a more complete and accurate representations of their encounters with civilians. For example, the Montreal police has been reported to ask for body cameras, saying that “videos posted online and spread on social media often fail to show the full exchange in an intervention (Shingler, 2014). Clearly, this shows that the use of body cameras can increase police’s “defense against complaints” and protect them from being wrongfully sued (Siegel & Worral, 2014). From the justice perspective, the use of body cameras can serve as an effective measure to ensure higher police accountability. For example, the Supreme Court judge Frank Iacobucci has been quoted to recommend body cameras for Toronto’s police to “improve the way it treats emotionally disturbed people” (Lorinc, 2014). Clearly, this shows that the use of body cameras can increase police “professionalism and performance” (Siegel & Worral, 2014). Therefore, the top two advantages of body cameras is to both protect the police and also ensure they carry out their responsibilities dutifully.
On the other hand, there are also parties who are sceptical about the body camera technology. These parties include “civil liberties groups” and civil unions (Shingler, 2014). The main concern is with personal privacy issues. According to Stanley’s (2013) article, civilian privacy is invaded when their innocent behaviours and homes are recorded. In addition, another concern is with the police control in using body cameras to turn them on and off (Stanley, 2013). This shows that police can omit recordings that are disadvantage to them.
Drawing on the literature on police deviance and accountability, body cameras can be a convenient, effective tool, but also result in serious implications. According to Goldsmith’s (2010) article, body cameras can bring the major benefit of transforming from “viewer society” to “the media producer society”. In effect, the police are “losing their ability to patrol the facts and their “account ability”. However, the serious implications include the top two concerns with privacy issue and the lack of policy regarding police usage of body cameras.
According to my informed opinion regarding the prospects for body cameras, I believe that the creation and advancement of this technology can be effective in improving police accountability and also protecting them from liabilities, such as being unfairly sued. However, I highly recommend that extremely careful implementation of body cameras must take place, so that the implications of their usage can be addressed. This can be done through developing law policies that explain important terms, such as exact usage body cameras and the access and use of recordings. Strict and detail usage policies of body cameras must be extensive and practical in solving the issues they come with. To ensure that polices are strictly enforced, punishments must also be clear for violators. In this way, I believe that body cameras through careful usage can add great value to society in increasing police accountability.
Goldsmith, A. (2010). Policing’s new visibility. British Journal of Criminology, 50, 914-934.
Lorinc, J. (2014). New era of policing: Will the benefits of body-worn cameras outweigh the
privacy issues. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from http://www.theglobeandmail.
Reisig, M.D. & Kane, R.J. (2014). The Oxford handbook of police and policing. New York, NY:
Oxford University Press.
Sharpe, K. (2015). RNC taking wait and see approach to body cameras for officers. CBC News.
Shingler, B. (2014). Canadian police forces looking to arm officers with cameras. Global News.
Siegel, L. & Worral, J. (2014). Introduction to criminal justice. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.
Stanley, J. (2013). Police body-mounted cameras: With right policies in place, a win for all.
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