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Body Cameras Coming to Winnipeg Police, RCMP

Three deaths caused by Winnipeg police officers in the last six weeks have reignited the conversation about body cameras being worn by officers. The three deaths came at the end of the year, accounting for the only deaths caused by Winnipeg police in 2023.   

The city has estimated the cost of equipping Winnipeg police officers in the field with personal body cameras would amount to $6.8 million, with an annual cost of $4 million to $5 million to employ staff full-time to monitor the cameras. The amount of content officers would each record amounts to thousands of gigabytes, all of which will have to be monitored. 

Police Chief Danny Smyth has stated his support for the implementation of body cameras.

“It’s a costly thing, no question about it,” Smyth said at a news conference earlier this month.

Later, at the same conference, he said body cameras are “a way for us to be more transparent and accountable for interaction that occurs daily.” 

In 2021, the WPS asked for a budget increase in order to implement body cameras. The proposed increase was rejected, and the WPS was told they would need to find the money for body cameras in their budget as it currently is.

According to the office of Manitoba Justice Minister Matt Wiebe, conversations pertaining to body cameras are taking place with Winnipeg Police and communities across the province regarding how a pilot project for body cameras could potentially be launched with help from the province. A pilot project for body cameras was launched in 2015 but had to be cut short as a result of budgetary issues.

For years, the Winnipeg Police Services have argued the need for body cameras. Police Officers across Canada and the United States have been equipped with personal body cameras for years. Even in Altona, Manitoba, with a population of a little over 4,000 people, police officers have been using cell phones mounted to their uniforms as body cameras since 2021.

The Winnipeg Police would require approximately 1,300 cameras. 

Some argue that the addition of police body cameras does little or nothing to curb the use of force by police officers. Studies indicate there is no statistical difference in the frequency of force used in a given situation.

Detractors say the expense won’t be worth it for Manitobans and Winnipeggers, who are ultimately footing the bill via their taxes. The ability of an officer to simply turn off their body camera has some skeptics suggesting that an officer willing to act in bad faith can prevent the proper evidence from being recorded. Additionally, the ability of the police force to edit the camera footage causes hesitation to support the costly upgrade to the police force. 

The goal of Police Body Cameras

While there is evidence that, despite not decreasing instances of physical interaction, police body cameras increase accountability on behalf of police services and officers on an individual basis, body camera footage protects both the police and the public as video documentation captures the entirety of an engagement. It can also be used as an effective method of determining whether an officer has been conducting themselves appropriately with the public.

Those in favour believe body cameras provide an unbiased, clear reflection of events as they transpired. As some fear police will tamper with collected footage, it is crucial to create severe punishments for such behaviour.

A situation in which police behaviour was reprimanded in part due to body-camera footage took place in January 2023 when a 29-year-old man in Memphis, Tennessee, named Tyre Nichols, suffered fatal injuries after a violent altercation with five police officers after a routine traffic stop. Video footage from personal body cameras was, and still is, being used against the officers in court. Among the charges against the officers is tampering evidence, as one of the officers allegedly moved his personal body camera to a specific angle in order to avoid capturing the attack on film.

The charge of tampering with evidence holds officers accountable in situations where body cameras were rendered unable to effectively capture the situation. Such a system of accountability, some argue, would require all body-camera footage to be publicly available to allow for public scrutiny.

A police board report from 2021 states that the “Winnipeg Police Service recognizes the growing demands for greater accountability and transparency, and the service continues to express a strong desire to help address these demands.”

Regardless of the result of adding body cameras, the police services are still facing incredibly dire situations pertaining to individuals whose judgement is substantially skewed by addiction or severe mental health problems. Ultimately, regardless of what equipment Winnipeg Police Officers add to their arsenal, these major issues will continue contributing to increasing violent crime rates in Winnipeg.

The RCMP 

The RCMP is introducing police body cameras for all front-line general duty police officers across the country, which will require between 10,000 and 15,000 cameras. The RCMP estimates cameras will cost approximately $3,000 each per year. This includes the camera, access to a digital evidence management system, and the RCMP staff required to manage the program.

“It is critically important for Canadians to feel protected by the police. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) is committed to taking the necessary steps to enhance trust between the RCMP and the communities it serves,” SGT. Kim Chamberland said on behalf of the RCMP. 

According to the RCMP, body-worn cameras will strengthen transparency, accountability and public trust, resolve public complaints more quickly, improve interactions between the public and police, and improve evidence gathering. 

After working with Motorola Solutions Canada to establish a viable program, the RCMP has decided to instead work with the next-ranked bidder, Axon Public Safety Canada Inc. Field tests are set to begin in the coming weeks with Axon Public Safety Canada Inc. in the same locations the previous trials took place.

Field tests were conducted in 2023 using approximately 300 cameras in detachments across Nova Scotia, Alberta, and Iqaluit for ten weeks. Once field testing in the same detachments is complete with Axon equipment and systems, further details about a national rollout and long-term costs will be available. 

The RCMP has already openly stated their policies and expectations pertaining to on-duty officers wearing cameras. Officers will be required to activate cameras during all service calls. Officers will be allowed to turn their cameras off at designated times, but these will be in rare instances.

“Body-worn video provides increased transparency while also providing a first-person view of what a police officer encounters, oftentimes in highly dynamic and tense situations,” Chamberland said. 

In 2020, the federal government committed $238.5 million over six years to fund the addition of body cameras and the digital systems required to maintain supervision and storage of recorded data. This is enough to fund the initiative until 2024-25, at which point contract policing partners will contribute to the contract share.

“The RCMP is committed to being transparent and considering the needs of diverse individuals throughout this initiative. This is why we are conducting national consultation with diverse groups and have made our new body-worn camera operational policy available to the public.”   

– Matthew Harrison, U Multicultural

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