While Winnipeg’s police board flirts with the idea of outfitting officers with body cameras, the president of the Brandon Police Association said money could be better spent elsewhere.
Sgt. Kevin Loewen said he doesn’t discount the benefits of the idea, including evidence gathering, but said placing a camera between police officers and the public could hinder their interactions by “putting a wall up.”
“There are a lot of times when we are dealing with issues of a sensitive nature and anytime we are recording people, or if we are recording people all the time, it really jeopardizes some the protection of personal issues,” Loewen said.
“So I’m somewhat cautious about a program like that.
“For example, a sexual assault. They may be seeking advice but haven’t come to terms with whether they are at the point of where they’re willing to do full disclosure.”
And officers wouldn’t be able to simply shut off the camera without opening up a storm of scrutiny if a matter goes to court, Loewen pointed out.
Along with tensing up someone who might otherwise be forthcoming with police, Loewen also argued there’s no end to the technological equipment available to officers.
It all comes at a price during a time when the cost of policing is under a spotlight.
“It would be a matter of great debate,” he said. “At this point, if we’re looking to enhance our tool kit, I think there are other tools we can purchase.”
The proposed pilot project in Winnipeg is budgeted at $1 million, and the city’s police chief said it would cost even more.
For now, the Winnipeg police board simply wants police to research the pilot project for which the city has already budgeted.
If monitoring police conduct is the main reason for installing on-body cameras in Brandon, Loewen said he would call it a waste of money, since city police are rarely investigated for misconduct.
“If it’s a watchdog program, it’s throwing good money away,” he said.
However, Brandon police Chief Ian Grant isn’t quite as dismissive of the program.
“It is definitely something we would take a look at as another tool to assist our officers and assist the public,” he said.
“We could possibly take a look at it in Brandon on a pilot-project basis and see how it shakes out.”
Similar programs have been used in Calgary, Edmonton and Ottawa in recent years. Grant would like to wait for results from those city’s programs.
Curbing unwarranted complaints against police officers would be highly beneficial, Grant said, which is an issue in any jurisdiction.
“If there’s audio and video evidence ... then that goes a long way to protect the members of our organization against what would be perhaps unfounded or vexatious types of complaints.”
Grant also pointed out that suspects may be less aggressive if it’s known the conversation is being recorded.
With all cruisers outfitted with laptops and some with front-facing cameras — the plan is to have most vehicles equipped with cameras soon — the body camera “might just be that next step,” Grant said.
“It’s definitely something we’re going to have some discussions about.”
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 7, 2013