By Courtney Bachar/The Oshawa Express/LJI Reporter
Durham Regional Police have reconvened the Body-Worn Camera (BWC) team to finalize the pilot project report and bring a plan to regional council.
The motion to reconvene the BWC team, brought forward by Ajax Councillor Marilyn Crawford and Whitby Councillor Elizabeth Roy, sparked a lengthy discussion among councillors at a recent council meeting.
“Body-worn cameras provide the accountability with no requirement of change in legislation,” says Crawford. “This is a tangible way of showing our community that is demanding accountability and transparency in our policing. This is one way that we can do that.”
Roy says body-worn cameras can be a great support for frontline officers as well as the community.
“We are in a day where the criticism is quite critical,” she says. “This is about protecting not just the police force but also giving the support to the community and looking at options of how we can re-evaluate bad practices, or practices that just have not been corrected.”
DRPS conducted a year-long BWC pilot from June 2018 to June 2019 using officers from two units in West Division, Regional Traffic Enforcement as well as members from the Festive R.I.D.E. team.
According to the motion, approximately 80 officers were outfitted with cameras during the pilot project, which resulted in 26,600 videos being collected. Of the video collected, 32 per cent was categorized as evidence and about 30 per cent has been or will be used in criminal and provincial offences trials.
Retiring Police Chief Paul Martin says he will not comment on his position on body-worn cameras, rather he will side with the findings of the study once they are released. The report was originally estimated to be completed in May 2020, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the study was put on hold and members of the BWC team were temporarily redeployed to their original positions.
However, Martin notes there are other ways, and possibly more effective ways, to ensure police accountability, such as disciplinary processes.
“There are things we can do from a police disciplinary standpoint that would not handcuff chiefs of police in their ability to discipline people when appropriate, including suspension without pay,” he says. “There are a number of things we can look at and body-worn cameras is just one tool in the toolbox.”
The original motion went through a number of amendments before finally receiving a unanimous nod from council.
Pickering Councillor Maurice Brenner says the community has spoken and it’s time council starts listening.
“I think we’ve heard a demonstrated need and cries from the black community and Black Lives Matter loud and clear, and it’s up to us and prudent upon us to support this motion,” he says. “It’s a fair one and one that has been requested.”
The final report will include “allocation of funding required to start phasing in the procurement and outfitting of frontline officers with cameras to eliminate subjectivity in civilian and police interactions” and is expected to be completed by September or early fall.
Oshawa Councillor Brian Nicholson says citizens are sending a clear message and they want concrete action.
“The overwhelming majority of the citizens of our region and beyond do want to have a record kept of the interactions between the community and the police,” he says. “It’s called accountability and transparency and that is what is expected of us.”