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Sunday, August 25, 2013

Body Cams would make things easier on our police officers

TORONTO Sun
Big Brother has had his eyes on us for a 
while now and, despite initial resistance, we’ve apparently 
accepted being caught on camera as a part of daily life.
But Little Brother watching back is a newer trend, made 
possible now that almost everybody carries a video camera.
Where once we saw peace signs and lighters waving in the 
air at large gatherings, we now see hands holding up 
cellphones.
And hitting record is fast becoming an instinctual response.
As is uploading video to the web and sharing it 
instantaneously with viewers around the world, which we 
saw with the police shooting of Sammy Yatim.
That deadly July 27 confrontation with the knife-wielding 18-
year-old may well lead to cops being outfitted with body 
cams.
Calgary Police are currently experimenting with such 
cameras and several U.S. cities have deployed the 
technology.
Services using the cameras say the devices give added 
protection for police and the public, reduce frivolous 
complaints and keep officers on their best behaviour.
But the need for body cams runs deeper in Toronto, where 
public trust in police is badly broken.
The damage was done long before Yatim was shot and 
dying on the floor of a streetcar.
Repeated incidents of misconduct, excessive use of force, 
killing citizens “accidentally” and lying in court — which tears 
at the very fabric of our justice system — have led us here.
Anyone still denying the problem should have been swayed 
by listening to callers on talk radio in the wake of Yatim’s 
shooting.
People actually questioned whether a Taser was used on 
the teen after he was killed to cover up what may have been 
a bad shooting — a plan they speculate was foiled when 
the incident was caught on video.
It may seem ludicrous to think cops could conspire to do 
something so sinister but the fact it’s even been suggested 
is telling.
Chief Bill Blair lambasted his officers for their “unacceptable 
behaviour” in an internal video four months ago, but police 
have done nothing publicly to reverse the damage.
Body cams would be a good start.
The devices would help keep the few bad cops honest. But 
more importantly, cameras would allow the many good 
coppers to tell the truth without fear of reprisal from fellow 
officers, which is the real systemic problem within the 
service.
Good cops want to tell the truth and video would provide the 
backup.
Just about everyone who matters in the policing world is in 
favour.
Gerry McNeilly, head of the Office of the Independent Police 
Review Director, told me he believes “the increased use of 
video is an inevitable part of the future of policing.
“I recognize there are concerns regarding privacy, and for 
police services, the challenge of cost,” McNeilly said. 
“However, the additional evidence that body-worn cameras 
would provide would certainly help with investigations into 
incidents between members of the public and police, and 
surely advance accountability and transparency on both 
sides.”
Ontario SIU Director Ian Scott told me video from body cams 
could be “very useful in understanding the facts of an 
incident.”
Joe Couto, of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police, 
said it’s worthwhile “exploring anything that allows our 
officers to do their job better and more safely.”
Toronto Police have reserved judgment until after the 
investigations into Yatim’s shooting.
Privacy concerns were raised over CCTV cameras in the 
Entertainment District and cruiser cameras, but the public was told they had nothing to fear if they are obeying the law.
The same holds true with body cams.
As for cost, initial reports suggested body cams were $2,000 
each. But U.S. police services have recently paid less than 
$1,000 per device.
There are about 5,400 sworn Toronto Police, but only those 
who deal directly with the public would need to be equipped.
If the province won’t cover the bill and police can’t find the 
cash in their nearly $1 billion annual budget, maybe the 
public could pitch in.
If every adult in the city coughed up $2, police could outfit 
2,000 cops with body cams.
Two bucks is a small price to pay for the truth.
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