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Police set to launch body camera project in June

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

Select platoons of the Durham Regional Police Service (DRPS) are set to be equipped with body-worn cameras starting this June in order to test the efficacy of the equipment and its potential for implementation across the entire police force.

The move comes almost four years since the project began in 2014. Over the course of the first three phases, which included background research and a public survey, the goal has been to determine if BWCs would provide value with respect to accuracy and the quality of evidence, and the level of trust in the community toward police and enhancing accountability.

Ahead of the launch date on June 14, the DRPS are already well underway in training the officers that will be using the cameras as part of the pilot. It’s a preparedness that Cst. Marten Wind, assistant project manager for the DRPS BWC project, hopes will allow the project to get started without a hitch.

“We’re hoping that the training that they have and the information that we’ve collected over this time, it’ll go smoothly,” Wind says.

The pilot project will include approximately 80 officers from platoons in Ajax and Pickering, along with some members of the Traffic Enforcement Unit and the 2018 Festive RIDE campaign. The project comes with a $1.2 million price tag.

With the training aside, Wind knows there will more than likely be a few hiccups along the way as officers get accustomed to working the body camera footage into their workflow.

“It’s a learning curve, it’s a changed management for them as well, just to get used to the fact when (they) approach a vehicle, talking to somebody in the community, if (they’re) going to engage them in some type of police investigation or somebody has reported something, just letting people know that the officer is wearing a body-worn camera.”

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 Durham residents 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.

As of April 9, more than 30 of the officers involved had received the academic and scenario training for the BWCs, with the remainder to be brought up to speed by the end of April. The project also includes the acquisition of six video management technicians to manage the footage.

It is that footage that has been a topic of great debate since the project began.

New Supreme Court rules had the Durham Crown Attorney’s office concerned about what the footage would mean moving forward. That court decision places strict and finite timelines on the length of certain cases and when they need to be resolved, allowing 18 months for all matters within the Ontario Court of Justice and 30 months for Superior Court matters.

It’s something that Wind notes the team has focused on extensively to ensure the evidence gets to the Crown Attorney’s office in a timely fashion.

“We partner with our Crowns, both for Criminal Court and Provincial Offences and they’re all part of it and they know what’s going on,” he says. “The downloading of that information or the evidence that they’re collecting should be pretty straightforward, it’s really going to depend on how it’s used in court.”

When the project wraps up in June 2019, the DRPS hope to have enough evidence to make a decision for the future use of the cameras for the entire police force.

“By the end of it, we can have what is the cost for these things, and not just the cost for the items, but the cost of costing the police department in some of the employment and the creation of some extra video management people,” Wind says. “We need to see what that looks like before we can really sit there and say, hey this is where we’re going with this.”

To assist them with that evaluation, the police force is bringing in an outside consultant.

DRPS is currently in the process of coming to an agreement with Dr. Alana Saulnier, an assistant professor and the coordinator for the Criminology program at Lakehead University to assist in evaluating the program.

Saulnier, who previously worked at the University of Illinois at Chicago, was also part of evaluating the Chicago Police Department’s BWC pilot project.

According to the latest report from the DRPS on the BWC project, Saulnier will be involved in evaluating officer and community perceptions, departmental and prosecution metrics, and officer workload analysis.

“This comprehensive review will enable our cost-benefit analysis of our body-worn camera deployment and facilitate an evidence-based decision to be made regarding any future BWC deployment,” the report reads.

Wind says that once the project wraps up in June, they hope to have a final evaluation completed by late 2019 or early 2020, but that all depends on the amount of info collected and the time needed to analyze it.