Privacy laws create challenges with body cameras

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Privacy laws create challenges with body cameras

Postby Thomas » Tue Feb 24, 2015 7:23 am

NIAGARA - Now is not the time to start making officers wear body cameras, says Niagara Regional Police Chief Jeff McGuire.

Not because he doesn't agree they can be an effective tool – but because more preparation needs to happen before a program is rolled out locally.

The NRP has set aside $250,000 in its 2015 budget for future use of body cameras – but on Thursday night – Chief McGuire told regional councillors there is a “wealth of challenges” that needs to be addressed first.

“There's a lot more to body cameras than people think," said McGuire.

Every second recorded by the cameras once officers begin wearing them automatically becomes evidence and in turn – something that needs to be carefully filed and stored, one of the issues McGuire says need to be addressed.

Canadian privacy laws need to be met from every angle and through consultation with the Ministry of Justice and the Attorney General – McGuire said a pilot-project involving body cameras with Toronto Police and the Ontario Provincial Police is expected to indicate how other agencies in the province should begin implementing their own programs.

“If we went forward right now, the Ministry told us we would cripple the criminal justice system,” said McGuire.

The office of Canada's privacy commissioner released a report last week on Body-Worn Cameras, providing guidance on their use by law enforcement agencies.

The report concludes that BWCs not only record the actions and speech of an individual – but also individuals' association with others in recording range including friends; family members, bystanders; victims and suspects.

“The recording of individuals through the use of BWCs raises a significant risk to individual privacy,” says the report.

The privacy commissioner also says law enforcement agencies must be committed to only deploying body-worn cameras “to the degree and in a manner that respects and protects the general public's and employees' right to personal privacy.”

Are they necessary?

There must be a demonstrable operational need a body camera program is meant to address, according to the recent report.

What operational needs do law enforcement agencies have for which BWCs are a solution, is an important question the privacy commissioner says needs to be answered.

“BWCs should not be adopted simply because they may be considered a popular enforcement tool. They must be judged necessary to address specific operational circumstances in the jurisdiction they are deployed in,” reads the recent report.

Bob Gale, chair of the NRP services board said getting all the facts on the use of body cams needs to take place before a program is implemented locally.

“We support the use of body cams by the officers but we must have a trial period to test them,” said Gale, also a regional councillor for Niagara Falls.

Last term, St. Catharines Reg. Coun. Andy Petrowski made a presentation to the police board, saying that implementing body cams could reduce the amount of liability claims against the NRP and also cut down the amount of frivolous complaints received.

“In the long run, the police service should be safer and save money by officers wearing them,” said Gale.

Petrowski is the vice-chair of the police board.

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