NEWS

Toronto police get body-worn cameras next week

05/15/2015 08:49 EDT | Updated 05/15/2016 05:59 EDT
Next week, 100 Toronto police officers will start wearing video cameras while they work.

The cameras — which part of a pilot project launched in the wake of several incidents, most notably the 2013 shooting death of 18-year-old Sammy Yatim on a TTC streetcar — will capture interactions between police and the public.

Toronto police officials hope it will create some transparency about how the force operates. But critics of the pilot project question what it will mean for people's privacy, and how much of the footage will ever be shared with the public.

Staff Supt. Tom Russell said the use of the cameras will be "overt." 

"We're not conducting surveillance on people or the community ... this is about a direct interaction with someone," he said at a news conference where the cameras were shown off.

One key question already put forward about the cameras is if they will capture instances of carding, the controversial program in which police officers stop people at random to collect information.

"If an officer is going to speak to a member of the public for the purposes of perhaps collecting some personal identifiers or simply asking them 'what's your purpose here?' — those types of engagements will be videotaped," said Supt. Russell.

He said the cameras will also be rolling when police respond to calls.

John Sewell, of the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition, still has questions about how the program will work.

"What's the notification that police are supposed to give before taping begins? Or do they not give it? Who knows," he said.

Sewell also questioned the protocols for protecting the rights of innocent people caught on tape. And, he wondered how much of the video will be made public.

Supt. Russell said police consulted with the privacy and human rights commissions as well as the attorney general while the pilot project was drawn up.

Some police forces in Canada, the U.S. and U.K. already use body-worn cameras, while others are considering equipping their officers with them. While some statistics show they're effective, it's hard to say for certain whether or not they make a difference.  

Toronto police say they will decide whether or not to keep the cameras based on a community survey that will be conducted after the pilot project ends. 

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