By Graeme McNaughton/The Oshawa Express
Durham police are a step closer to adopting body-worn cameras – and it looks like it will not be a cheap or simple process.
According to a report presented at the Durham Police Services Board, the study surrounding equipping the region’s police force with body-worn cameras is moving into its third phase, which will see consultation with the public and those that may be affected by such an implimentation. While this phase of the program comes with a relatively lighter price tag — $90,000 – the report also lays out prospective costs for when and if the time comes to give cops cameras. According to the report, the initial costs for the first year of the program would come in at just under $24 million, with annual costs of approximately $17.8 million.
While there may be some sticker shock at these numbers – the approximated annual costs amount to about nine per cent of the force’s annual budget – one of the people in charge of investigating such an implementation says no official decision has been made on whether there will even be cameras in the first place.
“Our whole purpose is to gather evidence on the operational side of this and to gather evidence on whether we should be doing it and if there is support to be doing it. We’re not trying to sell anything – we’re trying to gather evidence as far as would such a program be beneficial to Durham Region and Durham Regional Police, and if we found that it had benefit, what would the costs be associated with that,” Jason Bragg, project manager for DRPS’ body camera project, tells The Oshawa Express.
“We haven’t made any decisions as far as deploying cameras or selling a program. That’s some ways down the road and certainly will be largely dependant on the evidence that we gathering during the next year or more.”
According to the report, the majority of those costs will be for frontline staffing, as there would need to be a new unit created in order to manage the large amounts of data that would be coming in from the cameras. The report also recommends that 102 additional officers be hired as the extra workload with the new cameras – including having to go back to the station at the end of the shift to download and file the videos from the cameras – would be too onerous on the force’s current numbers.
Initial implementation costs in Durham Region may be higher than other jurisdictions investigating similar programs – such as Toronto, Calgary or Edmonton – as they already have some of the infrastructure in place to handle videos from dash cameras mounted in cruisers, something the Durham force does not have.
Bragg says that the current phase of the project will likely last for the bulk of next year, with a report coming back to the board in June that will likely see a partial deployment of cameras to see how they work. Dave Selby, a spokesperson for Durham police, says this pilot would cost at least $750,000 and likely take place in Pickering and Ajax.
Future phases of the project, Bragg says, will also look at when the cameras will be turned on or turned off.
“The governance model is critical to a body camera project. When the cameras are on and when the cameras are off, obviously, has dramatic impacts on privacy and on data storage because the longer the cameras are on, the greater the data you’re capturing. That also drives costs in some respects, and it drives that video management cost, that processing cost,” he says, adding that the cameras will not be turned on all of the time.
“We’re not looking, at this stage, at full-shift monitoring. That’s not really feasible from a technological point of view and it has dramatic privacy impacts both for the public and for the officers involved.”
Going forward, Bragg says that while the public and others may be supportive of the idea of police wearing body cameras in general, they need to look at the costs behind it as well.
“The concept, people are generally in support of, but when you start talking about the nuts and bolts of it, obviously people have some concerns,” he says, adding this is why DRPS has taken the slow rollout approach for this project, with the first phase getting underway two years ago.
“That’s why we’ve taken the approach that we have – as a cost-benefit analysis. It is going to present a cost and a lot of the costs are pretty speculative at this point dependent on the advances in technology and devices selected if we were to be talking about a full deployment. At the bottom line, there is still going to be a cost and we have to make sure the benefits of the program outweigh those costs for Durham Region.”
Body-worn cameras in Canada and abroad
Body-worn cameras being used by police officers first gained exposure in 2005, when several police forces in the United Kingdom began testing the technology. By 2010, 40 police services were utilizing the technology, with one report citing an annual savings of £400,000 due to increased public reassurance, reduce fear of crime, increased early guilty pleas, fewer assaults on officers and complaints against police being resolved more quickly.
In 2014, President Barack Obama proposed that the federal government reimburse half the cost of body-worn cameras to American police services. A survey that year of New York-based Vocativ found that 41 of the country’s 100 most populous cities utilize the technology. Several police unions, however, have expressed concerns over body-worn cameras, citing issues surrounding privacy and possible distraction and safety issues.
Calgary police became the first in Canada to trial body-worn cameras in 2012, and is expected to have a full rollout among its officers by next year. Toronto police are currently in the midst of its body-worn camera study, one of several being closely watched by their colleagues in Durham. Toronto police’s pilot program, which saw officers in two divisions fitted with the technology, was completed this past spring and a final report issued to the city’s police board in September. The board voted last month to start the process of purchasing the equipment needed for officers for the technology, which is expected to tally up $85 million over the next decade.
Fredericton police announced earlier this month that it will also be testing body-worn cameras on six of its officers over a 90-day trial period.
Body-worn cameras have also been utilized by police in Germany, Australia and the Netherlands.