Police chief doesn't rule out body cameras amid calls for officers to be charged

The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary has not ruled out introducing body cameras to the force, but the chief says there are a number of barriers to the tool, like cost and privacy. 

As CBC News reported Tuesday, three RNC officers are under investigation by the RNC Public Complaints Commission for the way they arrested a father and son in Paradise in November 2017.

The incident was captured on the family's video and dashcam surveillance systems. Dennis and Zackary Ball believe they would have been falsely prosecuted had the video not shown their side of the story. The family wants the officers criminally charged, but the Crown decided there a conviction isn't likely.

"The bottom line is, the video tells the story. And the Balls were lucky to have a video," said lawyer Erin Breen, who represents the Ball family. 

"I think video is a great idea, and perhaps some police officers are asking for videos because it would tell the story from their perspective as well."

Body cameras for police have been divisive in many countries, including Canada, but they are thought to benefit officers by keeping them safe and improve community relations and accountability.

Idea raised at Dunphy inquiry

The idea of equipping police officers with body cameras — particularly when officers attend a scene alone — was raised during the Donald Dunphy inquiry. RNC Const. Joe Smyth shot Dunphy on April 5, 2015, in his Mitchells Brook home.

"No doubt, had Const. Smyth been equipped with a functioning body camera during his encounter with Mr. Dunphy, the camera footage would have been helpful in answering some questions that have arisen," Justice Leo Barry wrote in his 2017 report.

The inquiry heard from Sgt. Michael Massine of the BC Institute of Justice, who spoke to police studies on the use of body cameras. He noted the cameras have been a good asset for police, though it's not without its challenges. 

Ball family

For instance, a body camera does not have the same range of detection as people do, and an officer might react to a threat the camera does not see. 

"While a camera can provide valuable evidence, it cannot record the full picture of the human element that plays into an officer's actions and responses," Barry wrote. 

"While cameras could provide some evidence of police encounters and thereby potentially offer enhanced accountability and assist in restoring the public's confidence in the police, no one piece of technology will be the ultimate solution."

At the time, Barry recommended careful analysis be done before any decision is made on body cameras, to look at what the impact would be on other police funding initiatives.

RNC 'supportive of body cameras'

In a statement Thursday, RNC Chief Joe Boland said the force supports body cameras and has had discussions with suppliers in the past. 

"Some concerns we have been faced with are cost, privacy, storage capacity and maintenance, and accuracy," Boland said.

"We will be continuing to explore body cameras with these factors in mind."

The Newfoundland and Labrador RCMP told CBC News in an email that they are "not pursuing the use of body-worn cameras."

The RCMP conducted a body-worn camera project in October 2013 to evaluate the tool and its challenges, like privacy, legal and recording storage issues.

Technology brought its own challenges, the project found, such as limited battery life and a lack of camera durability, the RCMP said.

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