By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
A collection of Durham Regional Police officers will soon be wearing cameras while on the job, a result of extensive consultation, research and preparation by the police force.
The DRPS Body-Worn Camera Pilot Project has been ongoing for a number of years, mostly consumed with research and preparation. However, following an official announcement at the DRPS West Division headquarters on June 13, things are about to officially get underway.
Starting on June 22, approximately 80 officers from platoons in Ajax and Pickering, along with some members of the Traffic Enforcement Unit and the 2018 Festive RIDE campaign will be equipped with the devices. The project comes with a $1.2 million price tag.
For A/Sgt. Jason Bagg, the project manager for DRPS’s project, the evidence from BWC projects around the world have shown that the cameras can have positive effects on many aspects of policing, including reducing workload, improving officer and police trust and accountability, as well as improving the court system by increasing convictions and guilty pleas.
“What’s not clear is how that would play out in our setting,” Bagg says. “We’re unsure whether we’ll realize the same benefits.”
That is the reasoning behind the smaller pilot project, which will last until June of next year. After that, the police will analyze the data and lessons learned, along with the help of an independent reviewer.
Dr. Alana Saulnier, an assistant professor and the coordinator for the Criminology program at Lakehead University has been brought in to assist in evaluating the program. Saulnier previously worked at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and was also part of evaluating the Chicago Police Department’s BWC pilot project.
Officers who will be wearing the cameras have gone through a 28-hour training course in how to operate the cameras properly, along with the DRPS rules on when the cameras should be turned on and off. For those rules, the DRPS relied heavily on rules established by the Toronto Police Service during its BWC project, and is simply an incident-based approach. This means that during anything related to investigative work, traffic stops, or any interactions the officer has related to police work, they will switch on the camera. And while Bagg notes that there was some initial trepidation to the new cameras, he says officers have come around and accepted how useful the cameras can be.
“We’ve had some real buy-in on the value of the cameras,” he says.
Once recorded, that video evidence is later catalogued to be used in any court cases, with the DRPS using the platform Evidence.com to share information with the Durham Crown Attorney’s office. The DRPS have been using this platform, operated by Axon Public Safety, for nearly a year, and is hoping to seamlessly integrate the video evidence as part of that process. Axon is also providing the DRPS with the camera technology they are using for the pilot, free of charge.
Bagg and the DRPS are uncertain what results will come out of the pilot project, but one aspect of the project seems clear, and that is public acceptance.
As part of the initial phases of the BWC project, a public survey was conducted both online and through random phone calls to allow DRPS to test the waters on how the people of Durham Region felt about BWCs. In total, 2,274 responses were received through the online survey and the results were clear. Nearly 80 per cent of respondents said they supported the use of BWCs, while 76 per cent said they believe the cameras would create increased police accountability and 80 per cent of people believe they would provide better evidence.
And not only that, nearly three-quarters of people surveyed (73 per cent) supported an increase in the DRPS budget to pay for the cameras.
The police hope to have a final report and recommendation on BWCs completed by late 2019, early 2020. The item will pass through several levels of bureacracy ahead of any final approval, including the Durham Region Police Services Board, and eventually Durham Region council who will need to approve the item as part of the annual police budget.
According to previous estimates from the DRPS, if the BWC program were implemented in full, the initial costs for the first year of the program would be approximately $24 million, with annual costs of approximately $17.8 million.
In 2018, the budget for the DRPS was approximately $198.9 million.