City police plan to permanently equip front-line officers with body cameras

·3 min read

Cameras sure do bring out more of the best in people, Barrie police have found in a four-month pilot project.

The local police department tested body-worn cameras on 25 front-line officers on four platoons from October 2020 until Feb. 4 to get a sense of how they can be used and their effectiveness.

“We do notice that people act differently and that creates a better interaction for us,” Staff Sgt. Dave Goodbrand told members of the Barrie Police Services Board on Thursday.

They found the presence of cameras helps to keep people civil and on good behaviour — that’s the general public and officers alike.

And, at the end of the day, the officers found them beneficial, leading the force on a path of planning for the purchase of the cameras for 140 to 150 front-line officers.

The cameras were removed just prior to a controversial arrest earlier this month on Dunlop Street East in downtown Barrie captured on video by a bystander. The case is now being reviewed by the OPP professional standards unit and the officer has been reassigned to an administrative role.

If all goes well and if the budget allows, Barrie police officers will start wearing cameras in the spring with an eye to having all front-line officers outfitted by the end of the year, said Goodbrand, who is in the process of getting quotes on the cameras and to determine what features they will have. Add-ons include automated activation of the cameras when the lights of the police cruisers are turned on, and when a Taser or side arm are drawn.

Surveys are also being distributed to the officers who have worn them to get an evaluation of the equipment and their use, but Goodbrand said the early indications are positive.

“They wouldn’t want to go without them now that they’ve had them,” he told board members. “From preliminary discussions with the officers, they felt it was a very valuable, too. They felt they were treated differently and better.”

The downside is they generate more work.

Key to their use is their evidentiary value. Instead of having to rely on paper notes and personal accounts in court, officers can present the video offering real-time representation of any interactions and behaviour.

Goodbrand expects the “actual proof” will result in more guilty pleas, reducing the need for some cases to go to trial.

“It allows us the ability to truly capture what we’re experiencing,” providing the best evidence, he said.

The cameras work hand-in-hand with the digital evidence management system, which the department has been using, moving away from the use of hard discs to save audio files such as 911 calls, videos, photos and other evidence to digital storage. Video captured from a 12-hour shift could consume two to three gigabytes of memory.

Goodbrand later explained the use of body cameras is relatively new in Canada, with police forces in Fredericton and Calgary having adopted them, Toronto and Peel Region in the midst of employing them and Durham Region, Thunder Bay, Guelph and Stratford also launching pilot programs.

In addition to providing a variety of features specific to policing, the cameras are equipped with long-life batteries and work seamlessly with the department’s digital management system, which is developed by the same company.

Marg. Bruineman, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, barrietoday.com