“Hands up—you’re on candid camera!”
Or so could go the line Kelowna Mounties deliver to suspected lawbreakers, thanks to the implementation of some new technology.
Const. Steve Holmes announced Monday that six officers from the local detachment have been issued digital videocameras that have been recording their interactions with the public for the past two weeks. Only a select crew of local Mounties have had the technology clipped to their chests or bike helmets but, in short order, it could become an integral part of every police kit, nationwide.
“Now (we) have an impartial recording of what’s going on,” said Holmes, adding the cameras will be a great assistance when it comes to officer conduct complaints.
Among those who have been working with the cameras that ring in at $300 to $400 apiece is Const. Michael Dunn, who noted, from what he’s seen, it’s a worthwhile investment.
“I wish I had this a long time ago,” Dunn said, pointing out footage could be used as evidence in court, if requested by Crown Counsel. It even acts as a deterrent to those who want to cause trouble, as they tend to back down when they learn they’re being filmed.
“It will give the public an idea of what officers deal with on a daily basis,” Dunn said.
While Mounties are lauding the benefits of the new cameras, representatives from the B.C. Civil Liberties Association have said they’re leery because police, in general, “have a bad track record with video footage, especially when it comes to allegations of police brutality.”
“In some cases they’ve tried to deliberately hide or destroy footage,” said David Eby, the executive director of the BC Civil Liberties Association.
Eby pointed to a 2008 Prince George decision that highlighted an incident when Mounties destroyed or deliberately took steps to avoid preserving video footage adverse to their interest.
Most famously, RCMP seized Paul Pritchard’s video of Robert Dziekanski and refused to release it back to him until Pritchard retained a lawyer and threatened to sue.
“Police only make video available in circumstances where it’s incriminating, never when police have extended their authority,” he said, adding that the fact that footage is kept within the confines of the RCMP detachment is part of that problem.
Beyond that, Eby added the quality of evidence could even be compromised at the point of contact.
“Police officers could turn cameras on and off at will,” he said, adding that the problem is exacerbated by the fact there’s no policy to dictate how the equipment is used.
“It’s like management is throwing its employees under the bus by not providing them adequate instruction on how to use the technology properly.”
Const. Holmes said that Ottawa is currently devising best practices for the technology, but there aren’t many other rules and regulations around the use of video cameras, to date.