Are Cop Cams Still the Future of Policing?

Alberta Prime Time - Discussing the latest in crime topics are Erin Gibbs Van Brunschot with the University of Calgary, Mark Cherrington a Youth Justice Advocate, and Greg Dunn a Calgary Criminal Defence lawyer.


Are Cop Cams Still the Future of Policing?

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Michael: Will the future of policing still include body worn cameras? The devices are under scrutiny as yet another police force is rejecting their use. The RCMP recently announcing the current technology does not justify an investment in thousands of body cameras over 750 detachments aside from costs the cameras have raised many privacy and legal concerns prompting questions over storage and management of recording some municipal  police forces in Alberta have explored the use of body cams through pilot projects. Edmonton police decided earlier this year to  pause a plan to outfit 60 traffic officers, a decision based on funding. Calgary police were expected to be the first major force in Canada to roll out the cameras in 2017 but an October announcement stalled that contract stating they’ve proven unreliable and could lead to legal issues. Erin, to you first this time, do body worn cameras still have a place in the future of policing?

Erin: I think they will have a place in the future of policing because I think as we’ve seen in the US that it seems to be a prominent feature and a prominent piece of equipment for many police forces in the US I think the Canadian police forces are taking their time somewhat because unlike the US who has a number of different legal structures, state by state, essentially, I think what we are trying to do in Canada is ensure there is some sort of consistency, hopefully with regard to legislature that is  dealing with these cameras. For example the privacy issue that you brought up in your introduction. That’s a fairly prominent and problematic issue with respect to when cameras are turned on and off - so I think there’s a lot of things to be sorted out and moving slowly- makes a lot of sense. 

Michael: Mark, how much  debate should there be over the use of body worn cameras?

Mark: Well, I believe they serve a valuable purpose not only for the public but for the officers involved in incidents. I mean there is only one window you’re looking at, but they provide objective  evidence and provide some insight into what leads to an incident and what’s the outcome. I feel that the technology, the costs associated with body cameras is going to decrease and the quality is going to increase and you know, whether it be body cameras or little drones or  whatever, the whole aspect of visual recording is here and as Erin says, the privacy issues need to be weeded out, but I believe in 5, 6, 10 years they’ll be just a staple of policing.

Michael: Greg, is video the best evidence?

Greg: Well, from a defence perspective, it can be, and from a crown perspective, it also can be. If you are asking me from practice and defence law, I can tell you that sometimes video evidence is great for the defence and sometimes it is great for the crown. Sometimes it discloses exactly what the officer says and sometimes it discloses something that’s slightly different or very much different. I think at the end of the day I agree with Mark, I mean, from a holistic perspective, from a public perception perspective in terms of administration of justice, video evidence is really what the public wants to see. It's the strongest evidence, it’s the most unfiltered evidence - it comes without human bias, human frailty of faculty, and it's provided to the public. It is one aspect of evidence. Sometimes it tells a part of the story. But I think from a public administration or public confidence in the administration of justice, it’s integral and it's going to become more and more important as life goes on.

Michael: Greg, don’t you think that there might be a potential though for some unintended consequences?

Greg: Yeah, absolutely, I mean, what people don’t realize is that often when people feel that they are being recorded, they act differently - both police officers as well as civilians. Now that can have both good and bad, unintended consequences. Officers may, people may say it's going to hold them in check because they are going to be recorded and there’s not going to be excessive force, but on the flip side, there’s a loss of humanity I think between the police officer and between the general public when they know they are being recorded on both sides. People are not as engaging, they are not going to be as open and they are not going to be as human when they know they are being recorded as opposed to when they are not. 

Michael: Okay, our last topic for the panel tonight - renewed calls for the  bill known as wins law - the bill aims to make it mandatory to provide evidence of an accused criminal's history at bail hearing. Opponents say it could create a backlog to an already overwhelmed judicial system. And Alberta MP Michael Cooper is concerned the federal government will not support the legislation.

Michael Cooper: It’s not okay that this fatal loophole remains in the criminal code

Shelly (widow): Even if it’s one family that doesn’t have to go through this - that’s worth it. I will fight a lifetime for this if I have to. 

Michael: The bill was first introduced following the fatal shooting of  St. Albert RCMP constable David Win-Win shot in 2015 after confronting a suspected truck thief. The man responsible for his death was believed to have had more than 50 convictions, faced 38 outstanding charges and failed to appear to court on several occasions. Greg, some say this is the Trudeau government putting partisan politics ahead of public safety. What’s your take on the need for the legislation?

Greg: Well, look, I'm an Alberta boy so I don’t readily identify with Liberals at any point in time, but in this particular instance, I have to say, I disagree with the honorable Member of Parliament. This is not a loophole, this is the problem that we’ve had over the last 10 years of legislating the criminal justice system into a state where it’s absolutely grinding into a halt. Ive run hundreds of bail applications. I cannot remember actually a single incident in which a significant criminal record was not put before a judge. I mean why would any prosecutor, who is trying to keep an individual detained that could possibly be  dangerous and possibly a danger to the public, not put the criminal record to the judge? To legislate it - there is no need to legislate it. It’s common sense, these people are professionals, the Crown’s are professionals - it may have happened on the odd occasion as a once-off, but a once-off doesn’t mean that we should be legislating these things.

Michael: Mark, what kind of impact do you feel this legislation would have?

Mark: Well, like Greg says, I mean, I have a lot of confidence in our justice system and we don’t hear about all the good decisions that happen day in and day out. We have a very skilled and professional  body of the Crown Prosecutors and I think it’s important that they have some discretion and they have some opportunity to look at each case individually. Now, this is a very tragic incident and my heart goes out to the family and the members of the RCMP and people that have been affected by this tragedy but that doesn’t mean that you have to look at this being the silver bullet that is going to fix things. You know, the other aspect that bothers me about this, and I don’t know about other people, is that we always have to attach names to these bills - it adds to the rhetoric , it adds to the emotional aspect. When we are looking at something, we should be looking at it objectively and we should be looking at it from a legal perspective and a community perspective and attaching names to this, I think it just politicizes it.

Michael: Erin, what do you feel is at stake here?

Erin: Well, I agree with Mark's comments about attaching names. I think that that’s going down a path that does incite a lot of emotion and people, it’s probably not necessary. I think as well part of my understanding of a bail hearing is that you would be looking or that you would still have to maintain that presumption of innocence and therefore you can’t necessarily always bring a criminal record to the forefront yet again on a case that has yet to be heard. So I know less about this than my panelists but I would certainly imagine that a crowd would bring forward any relevant evidence to a particular situation if he or she felt that that was going to make a difference in terms of risk that that person played or was going to be for the public. 

Michael: Folks, appreciate your input, as always. Thank you ever so kindly.

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