By TOM GODFREY
The jury is out on whether new body cameras being worn by Toronto Police will help with carding issues or bring about much-needed changes in the community.
None of our community leaders were jumping with joy over the use by police of the body cams that began in a pilot project by 100 officers in Scarborough last week.
Many people agree the cameras are a good start in holding people accountable in dealing with strained relations between Toronto Police and the Black community.
But in the meantime, the nightly carding continues of young Black men who are stopped for no reason than being Black; and are questioned by police with their personal information stored.
Police are hoping the body cams can record and prevent bogus complaints against its officers. More importantly, police brass are hoping the devices will help with incidents of carding and improve interactions with members of the community.
Chief Mark Saunders and the force have been under fire and receiving negative publicity for continuing the controversial practice, that he said is a good investigative tool.
There have been regular protests outside police headquarters and a $200 million class action lawsuit is proceeding in court against Toronto Police to seek redress and stop the practice.
Officers from TAVIS Rapid Response Teams, Traffic Services and 43 Division Community Response Unit began testing the gear last Monday. The program will be reviewed in a year and then more than likely the mini-cams will be rolled out to front-line officers.
Staff Supt. Tom Russell said police consulted with the Ontario Human Rights Commission, the Ministry of the Attorney General and the Privacy Commission to ensure the privacy of the public was protected.
“We believe that body-worn cameras are a valuable piece of technology that will provide an unbiased, accurate account of our interaction with the public,” Russell assured us last week.
The TPS has been working on the technology for more than a year. It was only fast-tracked now to help ease tensions between police and the Black community over the carding issue.
Police said complaints against officers fell by more than 50 per cent with the use of the gear. Once complainants or their lawyers view videotape of the alleged incident, the complaints are usually withdrawn.
The technology has been in use by police in Vancouver for some time with encouraging results. The devices are being tested by cops in Calgary, Edmonton and Hamilton. They are also widely used in the U.S.
Police said the cameras will be activated whenever there is a call for service or someone is being investigated. Informal or casual conversations with citizens and interactions where there are no investigations will not require the cameras to be activated.
Officers who are operating the cameras are trained on privacy and human rights issues and will be required to tell residents when the cameras are rolling.
They will require consent in most cases before turning on the devices in people’s homes or businesses. Officers executing a search warrant are allowed to keep their cameras running without consent.
The project, that is well worth the $500,000, will store encrypted video from the cameras on a police server at police headquarters for a year, unless it is needed for a longer period of time.
Officers will not be able to delete, edit or tamper with the footage after it has been shot.
The force has been open about the use of the devices and has circulated thousands of surveys to area residents to alert them and seek their concerns.
We all have video cameras on our cell phones and have watched YouTube. This will take the practice further in that Toronto cops, and we the public, will have to be more accountable in interactions since all of our words and deeds are being captured for possible use in a courtroom.