Cameras Providing Clear Picture of Policing

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Body-worn cameras have become an integral part of the police uniform.

A year into the deployment of body-worn cameras, nearly 1,700 frontline uniformed officers are wearing the technology as part of their regular uniform and the program should be fully rolled out by year’s end.

“Body-worn cameras can increase trust and transparency between officers and the public while helping us use technology to deliver accountable, modern police services to the community,” said Chief of Police James Ramer.

All the officers have received training on the operational use, related governance on using cameras before employing the cameras in their work.

The next divisions and units to be trained include Marine Services, Police Dog Services, Mounted Services, 41, 42 and 43 Divisions.

The Service worked with the Information & Privacy Commissioner, the Ministry of the Attorney General, the Ontario Human Rights Commission, the Special Investigations Unit, and the Office of the Independent Police Review Director, to develop a program that considers privacy, security, and disclosure responsibilities for the body-worn cameras.

To learn about the Toronto Police Service’s body-worn camera program and to review our procedure, please visit the Body-Worn Cameras webpage.

The cameras have been embraced by officers because they provide an unbiased view of an incident, many times resulting in officers being cleared of wrongdoing.

Last November, a police shooting in 22 Division captured on a body-worn camera led to the immediate clearance of the officer being subjected to an Ontario Special Investigation Unit (SIU) inquiry.

The civilian oversight agency is responsible for investigating circumstances involving police that have resulted in a death, serious injury or allegations of sexual assault of a civilian in the province.

“We have had a number of occasions where people have alleged things that our officers have done where the officer in charge of that police station has been able to review that video almost in real time and sometimes with the complainant sitting at the table,” said Supt. Michael Barsky, who leads the implementation of the cameras. “That is one of the biggest reasons why our people have embraced this. If they have done nothing wrong, they shouldn’t have to go through the process of being investigated.”

The first permanent deployment started in August 2020 in North Etobicoke with 23 Division officers.

Barsky said that the program is now concentrating on evaluating and streamlining how video evidence, whether it be body-worn cameras or a witness interview, can be best shared in court as part of the disclosure process.

The program is also designing the best method to introduce new officers joining the Service to the technology while they are training at the Toronto Police College.

The team is also examining connecting conducted energy weapons to the camera technology, allowing cameras to turn on the moment a Taser 7 is unholstered.

We have had a number of occasions where people have alleged things that our officers have done where the officer in charge of that police station has been able to review that video almost in real time and sometimes with the complainant sitting at the table

Axon Canada provides a complete solution for the body-worn cameras that includes hardware, software, storage, training and ongoing support for the program.

“If officers get into a volatile situation where they have to pull their Taser, it will automatically start recording in the camera,” Barsky said. “That also includes the drawing of officers’ pistols. That’s important because in those circumstances where we are potentially most highly criticized, we are now protected by the transparency of that interaction because the camera automatically comes on for us. The suite of products that we are able to secure and now that we are able to deploy one year in will prove invaluable to the Service. Our people have embraced the cameras and done a great job with it.”

Officers have the body-worn camera in plain view and the camera has lights and notices indicating it has been activated. Officers are trained to give notice as soon as reasonably possible that a body-worn camera is in operation.

A police officer will turn on the body-worn camera prior to arriving at a call for service, when they start investigating an individual or when they are asking a person questions for the purpose of collecting their information.

An officer will turn off the camera when the call for service or investigation is complete or when the officer determines that continuous recording is no longer serving its intended purpose.

The only time a request to turn off a camera will be actioned is when a police officer has been given permission to enter a private home and the person granting permission makes the request. This can occur before the officer enters the residence or at any time during the officer’s presence in the home.

A man in TPS uniform speaking to a woman
A 14 Division Officer speaks to a member of the public while wearing a body-worn camera. Photo: Brent Smyth

Officers are trained to be aware of interactions with the public that may be sensitive such as when children are present, during a sexual assault or domestic violence investigation or when a person is in a state of undress. Body-worn cameras will typically not be used in hospitals, places of worship, schools etc. Recording in private locations is only permitted in exigent circumstances or under the authority of a judicial authorization.

Recordings are encrypted when captured and cannot be edited, altered or deleted from the camera; secure and encrypted uploading is done from the camera to storage; security authentication steps are in place to ensure only those with authorized access can view recordings once uploaded and there are automatic purging of videos based on established retention schedules and redaction abilities for recordings required for disclosure purposes.

At the end of every shift, a police officer will take their body-worn camera and dock it at one the porting stations in their unit/division. Once docked, the data will automatically be uploaded and stored in a Canadian-based cloud system.

If an officers fails to follow procedures, complaints can be lodged with the Office of the Independent Police Review Director like in any other allegation of misconduct. Once investigated, officers may face any number of disciplinary actions, up to and including dismissal.

The deployment of body-worn cameras is governed by the Supreme Court of Canada decision,R v Duarte. This means any surreptitious recording of an individual by the police, without authorization from the courts, is considered unreasonable search and seizure and a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

To avoid that, only uniformed frontline officers are allowed to carry body-worn cameras.

“Most of our initial interaction with the community is by uniformed frontline officers. The bulk of the calls for service that we attend, first and foremost, are done by them.”

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