Body-worn cameras to be mandatory for all police officers in Alberta, province says

Body-worn cameras are small and visible on officers' uniforms. (CBC - image credit)
Body-worn cameras are small and visible on officers' uniforms. (CBC - image credit)

Body-worn cameras will become mandatory for all police officers in Alberta, the provincial government announced Tuesday.

Mike Ellis, minister of public safety and emergency services, said the cameras will increase public trust in policing and help police review interactions.

"By documenting the behaviour of the police in public, collecting better evidence, and improving our approach to resolving complex complaints during investigations, [body-worn cameras] represent an objective measure to show what occurs in the moment," Ellis told a news conference.

The ministry will work with law enforcement agency partners on funding and logistics. A committee of the Alberta Association of Chiefs of Police (AACP) will be tasked with planning the rollout over the next few months.

Once the plan is implemented, Ellis said, all front-line officers in Alberta, including those who work for municipal police services and self-administered Indigenous police services, will have to wear the small cameras.

Ellis said Alberta will be the first province in Canada to mandate body-worn cameras.

The RCMP is working on a nationwide rollout of body-worn cameras and Alberta RCMP officers have been participating in field tests.

Body-worn cameras became mandatory for Calgary police officers in 2019.

"Several police agencies in the province are already on this path but we are looking forward to seeing the details of this mandate and how it will assist in standardizing our approach," said Dean LaGrange, chief of the Camrose Police Service and vice-president of the AACP.

Travis McEwan/CBC
Travis McEwan/CBC

Edmonton chief supports camera use

The Edmonton Police Service tested the technology about a decade ago, finding that it was "unproven" and came with significant data management issues and costs.

The EPS pilot found no quantitative evidence that the cameras had an effect on complaints, nor evidence the cameras led to a reduction in use-of-force incidents. The technology did help speed up complaint investigations, however.

EPS Chief Dale McFee said he wholeheartedly supports the use of body-worn cameras across the province. More research has been done since the pilot in Edmonton, he said.

A report on body-worn camera use in Calgary found the number of use-of-force incidents declined the year after the cameras were brought in. Internal and external complaints against police officers increased slightly, but complaint resolution time was reduced by half.

Shawn King, a defence lawyer and vice-president of the Criminal Trial Lawyers Association, said footage from body-worn cameras could corroborate testimony given in court and potentially shorten trials.

"At the end of the day, having video evidence is always preferable, as opposed to just having someone come in and tell you about what happened," he said.

Travis McEwan/CBC
Travis McEwan/CBC

Concerns over cost, privacy

Christopher Schneider, a sociology professor at Brandon University in Manitoba, has published several peer-reviewed articles on body-worn cameras.

Research is mixed on the effectiveness of the devices, both in terms of reducing civilian complaints and in reducing use of force by police, Schneider said.

In some jurisdictions, he said, police use of force has been shown to increase with the presence of body-worn cameras.

"I think the public should be alarmed by the adoption of these devices," he said.

Schneider said the cameras themselves are not expensive, but the data storage can cost large cities like Edmonton or Toronto millions of dollars a year. Officers can also turn off the cameras, he said, and they raise privacy concerns.

He said a more effective way to improve police accountability would be requiring officers to carry personal liability insurance. Officers who are found to have engaged in police misconduct or used excessive force would then see premiums go up.

A spokesperson for the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Alberta said the office hopes to hear from the committee about its plans to uphold access to information and privacy rights.

Scott Sibbald said the OIPC encourages municipal police services to submit privacy impact assessments on the use of body-worn cameras to help ensure privacy risks are mitigated before programs are implemented.