FREDERICTON — The police force in New Brunswick's capital aims to equip all its front-line officers with body cameras next year in an effort to increase transparency and public trust.
Fredericton police Chief Martin Gaudet said in an interview Thursday that the cameras are important tools for ensuring accountability and collecting evidence but also for gathering intelligence.
"When you're gathering all this information, there's a lot of intelligence that's gathered as well," he said. "That's useful for followup investigations."
Gaudet last week asked the city's public safety committee to approve $60,000 in next year's capital budget to buy 48 additional body cameras, bringing the total in use to 60. He told the committee that the 12 cameras currently in use are "just not enough. We know what those body cameras can do for us.”
Body cameras cannot be shared because each officer's device is attached to their regimental number, he noted. If a camera is shared, then the officers have to make sure the time, date and other details are recorded accurately so the evidence collected is not transferred to the wrong person, he added.
"It's just like our firearm," he said. "You join the team. Here is a specific equipment that you require to do the work."
The RCMP said earlier this year that between 10,000 and 15,000 body cameras will be deployed to contract and federal police officers who interact with communities across Canada.
Gaudet said simply getting more body cameras is not enough and the force is also looking for support to categorize the digital evidence.
"The comparison would be to go to a crime scene, grab the bloody knife and throw it in the closet and three months later say where is that knife, I need it for court purposes," he said. "It doesn't work that way and it shouldn't work that way. The digital evidence is the same thing. You just can't shove it in the cloud and go looking for it three months later."
Julius Haag, a criminology professor at the University of Toronto, said police have been "very quick" to acquire body cameras but research and knowledge about the technology is not keeping pace with the speed at which it is adopted and deployed. He said the available research about body cameras is mixed.
"It's difficult to say, even looking at some of the higher-quality studies coming from the United States, if body-worn cameras have had the desired impact that police services want," he said.
"There is mixed research on their effects when it comes to use of force and on officers' behaviour. And certainly on public perceptions of the police and police complaints as well."
The use of body cameras became more prevalent after high-profile incidents involving use of police force against Black and Indigenous people, leading to demands from the public for accountability and transparency, he said.
"The technology is readily available, it's possible for the police to implement this into their existing practices in a manner that doesn't really require them to fundamentally change anything about how the service operates," Haag said. "It doesn't involve any necessarily systemic changes to the policing institution or how the police are deployed."
Gaudet said the force's policy for body camera use will be made public "sooner rather than later."
"If there's ever a policy that should be made public, it's the body-worn camera policy," he said.
Haag said it is "absolutely vital" that such policies are crafted with public consultation, including input on when police turn the cameras on or off and how data is stored.
“In terms of how their data is being stored, tracked, used, and when the data is being destroyed — these are all really important privacy concerns,” he said. “Privacy concerns will undoubtedly impact public perceptions of body-worn cameras.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 17, 2022.
Hina Alam, The Canadian Press