Concerns over data access, storage with police cameras

Starting in mid 2014, Toronto Police will pilot test wearable cameras for six months and decide whether or not they should be widely employed | © Reveal Media Starting in mid 2014, Toronto Police will pilot test wearable cameras for six months and decide whether or not they should be widely employed | © Reveal Media

By Travis Pereira
Crime Reporter

Toronto Police Services is set to roll out a six-month pilot project that will have officers wearing cameras on their uniforms  – but there are concerns over who will access and store the captured data.

Canadian Civil Liberties Association executive director Sukanya Pillay said the issue of retention of images captured and who has access to them are major concerns.

“Some of the issues will be the protocol with respect to how long footage will be stored for if there are no incidents relating to the footage, how it will be deleted if it’s deleted and who would have access to it during the duration of storage,” she said.

Pillay said overall the devices have the potential to be a good accountability tool as long as the proper safeguards to ensure the privacy issues concerning footage are well thought out.

Joe Couto director of government relations and communications for the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police said if the project is deemed to be a success, a significant conversation about funding for the technology as well as training of proper use, will need to occur before full-fledged implementation is considered.

“Ultimately, the decision needs to be made at government level about funding this,” he said.

“Our organization’s view is that our budget can’t handle that type of investment, right now,” Couto said, adding storage of the digital information is another cost concern.

Staff superintendent Tom Russell  said the underlying purpose of the project is to work out all the details and effectively answer all the preliminary concerns and criticisms.

“Some of it is equipment-based in terms of how does the equipment perform. Others are policy based in terms of when do we actually record,” he said. “There are a lot of variables that need to be tested in the pilot.”

Russell said the project was approved by Police Chief Bill Blair as a response to recommendations put forth in the recent coroner’s inquest into the death of three mentally ill people, who were fatally shot in encounters with police.

“It’s about being on the cutting edge of technology and seeing if we can leverage this for the best interest of the officers wearing the equipment and also for the community that we serve,” Russell said.

Humber Restorative Community Justice professor Lynn Zammit said having video evidence of interactions between the police and members of the public could increase public confidence in the organization.

“Any time the public’s perception of policing is enhanced by statements or actions of truth it adds to the perception that police are being just,” she said.

Zammit said it enhances transparency of conduct that will help to foster trust and improve relations.

“Anything that adds to the positive interaction between the police and the public is a good thing,” she said.

The cameras would also be a great investigative tool and an even better measure of accountability in police interactions, said Couto. “The cameras capture what’s in front of them, ‘the camera doesn’t lie,’ is a saying,” said Couto,

Humber Criminal Justice professor Frank Trovato can see the cameras helping in professional development for officers, adding the need to articulate and rationalize reasons for actions would intensify.