Halifax Regional Police are charging ahead with body-worn video cameras, proposing in a new submission to phase them in over the next five years at an estimated cost of $3.71 million.
For at least one justice reform activist, the plan and its price tag are “a slap in the face” for “a meaningless technocratic measure that doesn’t do anything to change” police behaviour.
In a document headed to the Halifax board of police commissioners’ meeting on Monday, the municipal police force lays out its plans to equip every one of its more than 500 officers with body-worn cameras by spring 2023.
The document is a response to Coun. Tony Mancini’s successful July motion at the board asking for a report “detailing the feasibility of a body worn video pilot program from the Halifax Regional Police and Halifax District RCMP patrol officers that addresses costs, benefits, and technological requirements.”
The RCMP report will come separately, but the HRP report outlines a five-year implementation plan. There’s no motion attached, suggesting the board isn’t being asked to approve or deny the plan.
“HRP believes the introduction of BWV [body worn video] technology will provide benefits to the community and expects the technology will enhance police transparency, public trust and accountability while also improving operational effectiveness,” the report, its author unnamed, reads.
“BWV can provide context on police interactions with the public, including use of force and mental health related incidents. It will also provide opportunities for training and learning that were previously not available and will offer additional evidence for court processes. BWV is being rapidly adopted across the policing profession and, by adopting BWV at HRP, we will be able to realize the benefits as the technology and practices surrounding BWV evolve over time.”
In this first phase of HRP’s implementation, they’ve written this proposal to the board and submitted the project to the municipality’s capital budget planning process. After the board’s discussion, they plan to “begin drafting policy” for the cameras and go to procurement to buy them.
After buying them, police will “establish an internal oversight process in order for the project team to provide feedback during the roll-out and evaluation processes,” and then begin the roll-out with officers in the traffic division, starting with training them how to use them.
Based on how that goes, “the project team will review the policy framework and training package to ensure they are appropriate for wider roll-out of cameras.”
In 2022, the force will train all officers in using the cameras, and they’ll be deployed to patrol officers.
By spring 2023, HRP will equip the rest of its officers, including “Consideration for Critical Incident Command, Public Order Events, Negotiators and Mobile Mental Health calls with a live streaming option.”
At that point, “HRP will begin an overall evaluation of the BWV program to-date, to determine if the program is operating appropriately and improving transparency and accountability; if HRP remains satisfied with the technology provider; and if any substantive changes are required for the policy, roles, or structure of the BWV program.”
The initial capital cost in the first year is pegged at $795,000, with annual costs afterward of $380,000. HRP would also have to hire four people, all civilians, to process video files for court, “manage the technological aspects” of the cameras, and “support the FOIPOP section in processing FOI requests related to BWV content.”
The total cost for five years is $3.71 million, “factoring in capital, operating, and labour costs.”
“As noted above, we see this as a necessary cost to ensure all uniformed officers who may interact with the public have access to a working camera at all times and that BWV does not create a substantial new labour burden for existing staff and officers,” the report says.
The report lists off a number of Canadian jurisdictions with body-worn cameras, including Fredericton, Toronto, Calgary, and Medicine Hat.
It argues those jurisdictions have reported benefits like “improved public perception” through better “adherence to policy;” “increased professionalism” from cops and citizens; “better high quality, unbiased evidence,” and it claims the cameras reduce “false complaints against officers.”
But there’s no real evidence to support those claims.
Tari Ajadi, a doctoral candidate at Dalhousie University and a member of the Nova Scotia Policing Policy Working Group, said in an interview Friday that he believes people are generally supportive of the idea “because it appears to be a very simple fix.”
“It feels intuitive: ‘Oh, well if they’re watched, then suddenly they won’t behave this way. The reason for police misconduct is a lack of visibility.’ But we’ve seen images of police officers acting badly for years, for decades now,” Ajadi said.
“African Nova Scotian communities and Indigenous communities have been talking about police misconduct for decades and decades, if not centuries, and nothing has changed. Why body-worn cameras would suddenly transform what is in fact a systemic issue, I don’t quite see how that would happen.”
The Nova Scotia Policing Policy Working Group expressed its concerns to the board of police commissioners this summer. In a letter, the group flagged the lack of evidence showing the cameras are effective. It wrote, “Accordingly, it is disheartening to see Commissioners gravitate toward precisely these sort of ‘quick fixes,’ rather than doing the difficult work of engaging with the public for the purpose of promoting public safety through evidence-based policymaking.”
Ajadi reiterated the group’s position on Friday: it’s against body cameras.
“Body-worn cameras aren’t really going to do anything to transform community concerns about police harassment, police surveillance, excessive use of force, and systemic racism within the HRP,” Ajadi said.
“It’s a meaningless technocratic measure that doesn’t do anything to change those conditions on the ground.”
The cost matters, too. At a time when Ajadi and fellow justice reform activists across North America are calling on governments to defund the police, body-worn cameras necessarily mean increasing police funding.
“Frankly, I think that at a time when we’re looking a broad-based review of how policing is done in the municipality, suddenly saying, ‘But actually we need this $4 million on the side,’ is a bit of a slap in the face to those who’ve been pushing for a meaningful look at policing here in Halifax,” Ajadi said.
Also on the agenda at Monday’s board of police commissioners meeting is HRP’s proposed 2021-2022 budget.
Due to COVID-19, Halifax regional council cut the police budget for 2020-2021 to about $86.3 million from the originally proposed $89.8 million.
For 2021-2022, police are looking for $88.7 million — an increase of 2.8% over the recast 2020-2021 budget.
It’s unclear whether the operating costs associated with body-worn camera are included in that budget.
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