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DRPS body-worn cameras: Positives outweigh negatives

By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express

With positive feedback from the community and a potential sway in opinion from officers, Durham Regional Police has concluded their body-worn camera (BWC) pilot project.

Over the course of the one-year pilot, officers involved in the project recorded more than 26,000 videos with the BWCs.

Of these videos, approximately 52 per cent were categorized as evidence, while 30 per cent have been or are considered evidence in criminal or provincial offence prosecutions.

According to Sergeant Jason Baggs, the project manager of the pilot, there were 80 officers involved in the pilot stationed in Ajax and Pickering, as well as regional traffic enforcement officers.

Festive ride officers were also included in 2018.

Baggs says the mission set out by DRPS is to determine the value of BWCs to the police service, their partners and the community in respect to accuracy, and the quality of evidence, transparency and trust.

He notes the Police Services Board is also looking at the cost-benefit analysis of BWCs.

“Anytime we have new technology, new work requirements that have costs associated with those, we have to figure out how those balance out with the benefits that we might receive in terms of better evidence and those kinds of things,” says Baggs.

Whether or not the pilot was successful, Baggs says it depends on one’s interpretation.

“We did what we said we were going to do,” says Baggs. “We ran with the cameras for the year, we’ve had some interesting results so far in terms of how the cameras positively impact community reactions, we haven’t at this point… seen some of the dramatic costs that we anticipated based on some of the experiences in Edmonton and elsewhere. So there are some really intriguing benefits that we’re exploring and trying to measure.”
He doesn’t want to get ahead of the game though, as DRPS is still gathering data.

DRPS is looking at officer perceptions, community perceptions, departmental metrics, workload analysis, and prosecution metrics.

“In some cases it’s too early to tell what those results will show,” says Baggs.

Over the next several months DRPS will be working with Dr. Alana Saulnier, an assistant professor at Lakehead University.

“She’s really, I think, one of the leading experts on BWCs – certainly in Canada – having worked on the Chicago police body camera evaluation,” says Baggs.

Working with Saulnier will help DRPS to better understand the impact of BWCs, according to Baggs.

While he’s still waiting to get the results of the officer’s perception evaluation, Baggs believes there was some opposition early on from officers.

“[There were concerns] about officer privacy and officer workload,” he explained.

Some officers were concerned whether people would still be willing to speak to them in the “same frank and forthcoming way” if they knew they were being recorded.

“Really, there are very few police officers in Durham Region relative to the Durham population. If we can’t get information from the community and cooperation from the community, there’s not much we’ll be able to do,” says Baggs.

“As the pilot’s gone on, we’ve seen a bit of a shift… where the officers have used the cameras in sort of innovative ways, and certainly we haven’t seen the resistance from the community that some of those fears would have predicted – I don’t think we’ve seen very much resistance at all – and the officers fairly quickly got comfortable with the technology.”

He believes a lot of officers saw some benefit from the cameras, but he won’t know until the officer’s perception evaluation is complete.

Prior to the launch of the pilot, the DRPS conducted a general community survey on BWCs.

“Our community, no surprise, I think, pretty well like every other community that I’ve read about in North America, is in support of BWCs,” he says. “Over the course of our pilot, all of the feedback that we have got from members of the community has been positive.”