Frontline Toronto police officers could be wearing body cameras by the end of the year, when the Toronto police force launches a one-year project to test out the increasingly popular policing tool.
The Toronto Police Service plans to buy 100 body cameras, which will be distributed to officers in four areas of the city: the 43 Division (Scarborough) Community Response Unit, beat officers in the east end’s 55 Division, a selection of traffic enforcement officers and the Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy (TAVIS) team, a specialized team deployed to areas that need extra policing.
In a Request For Proposals seeking a company to provide the cameras, the force outlines the estimated timeline for the project, with select officers scheduled to wear cameras by mid-December.
In the last few years, numerous reports and recommendations have suggested body-worn cameras could assure greater accountability — something that is among Torontonians’ highest priorities, according to a recent poll of 23,000 Star readers.
Police watchdogs have advocated on behalf of lapel cameras, including Gerry McNeilly, director of the Office of the Independent Review Director (OIPRD), the investigative body that reviewed police conduct at the G20 summit in Toronto in 2010. McNeilly has said lapel cameras would provide valuable evidence outside of any video shot by the public.
In an op/ed piece at the end of his tenure as director of Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit, Ian Scott said the prevalence of video has been a “game-changer” in policing.
Referencing citizen-shot videos capturing importing policing events — including the 2013 shooting of teenager Sammy Yatim on a Toronto streetcar — Scott wrote that images capturing police action will become “even more widespread as smart phones and CCTV surveillance cameras proliferate.”
“The policing community should respond by embracing video technology. It is already being used in in-car cameras, booking rooms and cellblocks, and should be expanded to lapel videos and Taser cameras. While video may not tell the entire story, it can often be the best evidence of an incident,” he wrote.
In his ambitious report examining police interactions with people in mental crisis, retired Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci recommended this summer that Toronto police wear cameras “to ensure greater accountability and transparency for all concerned.”
Research has suggested that body-worn cameras can “moderate” an officer’s actions and behaviour, resulting in fewer public complaints.
Officers in Rialto, Calif., were among the pioneers of body-worn cameras. A study by Cambridge University in Britain found an 88 per cent decline in the number of complaints against police, even though only half of the officers were wearing the cameras at any given time. Meanwhile, use of force by police decreased by 60 per cent; if it was used, it was twice as likely the officer was not wearing a camera.
Toronto deputy police chief Peter Sloly has previously said body-worn cameras are the “natural progression” in policing technology, following the installation of cameras in booking halls in the 1990s and then into interview rooms and dashboard cameras on squad cars.
Toronto will not be the first Canadian police force to test the technology. Calgary police launched a pilot in November 2012, and Edmonton, Ottawa, Vancouver and Montreal are also testing cameras.