With so many police brutality stories increasingly dominating the headlines these days on both mainstream media platforms and across various social media sites, the push for police body cameras has continued to be fueled. A variety of cities across North America have decided to equip their police force with the cameras in an effort to help prevent any abuse, and to also record or document those injustices which might and do occur. Among the cities are Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, Detroit, San Diego, Denver, Dallas, Washington, Atlanta, and several others. They are also coming to a variety of Canadian cities, including Toronto and Vancouver. Interestingly, Toronto police officers (along with those in other departments) will be given the authority to turn off their body cameras while on the job.
Toronto police officers are set to be experimenting with the body cameras as part of a pilot project happening later this month, and the officers will be given authority to turn off the cameras when they “card” citizens not under arrest or investigation. At least 100 Toronto police officers are set to be outfitted with the body cameras for roughly one year, as part of the pilot project which is set to kick-off on May 18th of this year. The notion of giving officers the ability to easily manipulate or turn off the body camera while on duty, is a suggestion which some find to be questionable, worrisome, and even humorous.
Officers will also be expected to turn off their cameras before they arrive at a call for service, and again when they start investigating an individual. In short, the officers will be able to discontinue documenting the event whenever they feel like it, when it no longer “serves its intended purpose”. In instances where cities have implemented the body cameras, some have seen at least a 60 percent reduction in the use of force. Leading some to believe that if the officers knew they were being recorded, perhaps it would prompt some to perform in a more professional way.
Understandably, the police do DE-escalate many violent domestic situations, and they assist in criminalizing individuals over a variety of legitimate violent crimes like sex-trafficking, theft, murder, and much more. However, it appears that instances of unwarranted police abuse have been on the rise over the past few years, evidently more so throughout the United States than in Canada. This is why many feel that if the officers were being recorded, that it might play a role in decreasing the prevalence of police abuse and injustice. Therefore, when officers are given the authority to turn-off their cameras whenever they feel it's necessary, then it begs some to question the validity of the program. However, would it be wise for police officers to always be recording? That's a complex question to consider.
One important aspect of this program rests with who will have the authority to review the collected data that would be retrieved from these cameras. If all of the video footage is uploaded to a central server, then who might be able to view that footage? Officers enter many homes and vehicles as they perform their daily occupational duties, and as a result of this a myriad of very sensitive data would be collected and stored while these officers are entering people's homes and interacting with them, and that could pose some potential risk or threat later-on. This does raise some privacy and security concerns, and it is also worth considering how the footage might be incorporated into facial-recognition systems when the technology is further along. As well, it is also important to think about when any collected footage might be permanently removed that is not involved in any ongoing case. Oversight on this program is critical to the establishment of its integrity.
To be fair, police officers in many jurisdictions have already started to incorporate filming into many of their duties for years now, in order to keep a copy for their side of various events. Some Vancouver police officers are already outfitted with the cameras on their uniforms, and they have expressed their commitment to transparency and accountability in regards to the program and its purpose.
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