Kentville Police Service has become the first Nova Scotian police force to equip all of its officers with body cameras.
The RCMP have decided against body-worn cameras, as have Halifax Regional Police. But Kentville chief Julia Cecchetto said body cameras make sense for her force.
"They're going to wear them every day. They'll turn them on when they go into any kind of a situation where they are lawfully placed. Any kind of investigation or traffic stop — anything of that sort," she told CBC News Friday.
'Accountability on both ends'
Cecchetto said they have six cameras and will have one on each of the three officers on duty, plus a fourth for a bylaw or street crime officer. They'll be off by default and it will be up to the officer to start recording.
She said officer safety was the principal issue for the 16-member force. "I worked in Halifax [police force] for a long time and I know that from a safety point of view, if I push the button on the radio, I had 20 people there to help me."
She said that doesn't happen in Kentville, as often only two or three officers will be at a scene.
The Nova Scotia Chiefs of Police Association confirmed Kentville is the first force in the province to take the step.
"Generally speaking, the policing community does see value in using body-worn cameras for police work; however, we need to make sure the technology is viable, and that any concerns over privacy laws for us, our communities and the courts are addressed," said association president Peter McIsaac.
Sgt. Wilf Andrews used the Axon cameras during the two-year pilot in Kentville. He said police and the public responded favourably. "There's accountability on both ends," he said.
Andrews said Kentville residents have gotten used to the cameras. "We walk the beat a lot and interact with the public a lot. They see the camera and they ask questions. It's been educational as well," he said.
He said the camera sits in the middle of the officer's outer vest and can be turned on with one button. The batteries last 12 hours and the cameras can hold 23 hours of video.
Cecchetto said when the camera is docked at the station, it automatically transfers the video to a cloud storage system. She said how long they save the videos will be based on the alleged offence captured.
"You can't use them to see who's in a crowd if we have no reason to monitor who's at a particular place," she said. "They won't use it for informants or anything like that."
Calming effect on people
When recording, the camera turns on a light and beeps every two minutes. "That beeping noise reminds our clients that they're on video and [officers] found there was a marked change in the person's behaviour," she said. "They're not as likely to be aggressive."
She said members of the public can ask police to stop recording and the officer will consider that request. If it's happening in a private residence, the officer could decide to step outside to continue recording the interaction.
"Say for an example if we're called to a domestic situation, which we all know can go volatile pretty quickly — they'll be on, they'll be running," Andrews said. "If it's deemed it's not necessary, then it will be turned off. We do respect people's privacy."
The Cape Breton Regional Police Service will be watching closely. "It is something we're interested in exploring," said spokesperson Desiree Vassallo. "We are currently working with Axon Canada on a number of other digitally-based policing solutions and are discussing body-worn cameras as part of that. However, we are a ways away from taking that step."
She said CBRPS wants to study more how body cameras are affected by privacy laws to ensure it would work for the police, public and courts.
Cecchetto said she'll be monitoring its effectiveness in court, tracking how many guilty verdicts Kentville police get as a result of a recording. She said during the pilot, she knew of a case where once a defence lawyer saw the video, their client pleaded guilty.
She said the program will cost about $15,000 in total over the five-year contract. Officers will receive training in using the cameras from the company that produces them.
Kentville police are working on the formal policy to govern how exactly officers will use them.