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Watchdog calls body cams an imperfect ‘eye’ into B.C. police interactions

Police chiefs tout the effectiveness for investigations with timelines, evidence gathering
Delta Police Department Sgt. Jim Ingram wears one of the detachment’s body-worn cameras at the B.C. RCMP ‘E’ Division headquarters in Surrey on Jan. 11, 2024. The B.C. Associations of Chiefs of Police were touting the current and future roll out of of body-worn cameras in B.C. (Lauren Collins)

When Delta Police Sgt. Jim Ingram double taps the device attached to the front of his gear, it begins blinking red and beeping.

Then he tells the person he’s interacting with that he’s now recording. It’s something Ingram has had the ability to do for the past two years since Delta Police began deploying frontline officers with body-worn cameras.

“For the vast majority of interactions, when you tell somebody that they’re being recorded it keeps everything fairly calm and even level on both sides. From an evidentiary standpoint, it’s fantastic because that the recording the video, the audio, the recall of the event is brilliant. It’s a whole lot better than hand-writing notes after the fact.”

On Thursday (Jan. 11), the B.C. Association of Chiefs of Police hosted a media event touting the current and future implementation of body-worn cameras for police agencies throughout the province.

READ MORE: Police chiefs say body cams will improve carriage of justice

The association formed a committee in 2021 mandated “to identify best practices by ensuring consistency and standard operating procedures, policies, disclosure procedures and communications,” said Deputy Chief Anita Furlan with the Metro Vancouver Transit Police.

She said police expect the technology to improve interactions with the public and help resolve complaints more quickly.

Furlan, a vice-president with the B.C. Association of Chiefs of Police, said video evidence is valuable in court proceedings because it “shows exactly what is occurring.”

Ron MacDonald said the camera footage is an eye into the interactions of police and the public, but it’s not perfect.

“It’s just the camera, and obviously an officer’s perspective includes his or her peripheral vision, their other senses, what they hear, what they feel, the tension of the situation.”

MacDonald is the chief civilian director of the Independent Investigations Office of B.C. – the agency that investigates police involvement with civilians that involve injuries or deaths – and he said he’s been calling for all frontline police officers in the country to be equipped with body-worn cameras.

“As with any video, they don’t necessarily capture all the relevant information. But certainly that type of video taken from a very important perspective, together with the other evidence will greatly assist us in the work we do,” MacDonald told Black Press Media Thursday.

He said people as witnesses “suffer from many frailties,” such as memory recall, which can impact the quality of their evidence.

“The stress of a situation, memory can play tricks on people.”

If the IIO is investigating a subject officer and they chose to give a statement, MacDonald said the officers are directed to not look at the video footage prior to.

“It’s our view that video can impact memory quite significantly,” MacDonald said.

However, the IIO doesn’t compel officers who are the subject of an investigation to submit notes, reports or data. Of the 53 publicly released reports by the IIO in 2023, only four included some form of notes or interview from the subject officer. But MacDonald said the IIO would “absolutely” request the footage if the subject officer chooses to not speak with investigators.

Overall, MacDonald said the eventual rollout of body-worn cameras “helps to enhance the public’s faith in the work that police do because it shows that the police are prepared to be transparent about their interactions.”

Beyond the IIO, video footage can also be used by the B.C. Prosecution Service, which determines if charges will be laid, and the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner, which oversees and monitors complaints and investigations against municipal police jurisdictions.

Asked if she thinks all interactions should be recorded, deputy police complaint commissioner Andrea Spindler said it’s a balancing act, citing important privacy considerations.

Ingram agreed.

“On one hand, there’s expectations that the police are equipped with body cam recording. On the other hand, there’s expectations that people have the right to privacy,” he said.

Spindler said that looking at some statistics, the OPCC has only ever had a couple of complaints involving the Delta Police Department where there was body-worn camera footage.

For her, the interesting part will begin one or two years down the road to see if the footage leads to more timely resolutions.

“What will in fact be the impact on complaints investigations and has that really improved police accountability and enhance public trust in police?”

– With files from The Canadian Press

Lauren Collins

About the Author: Lauren Collins

I'm a provincial reporter for Black Press Media's national team, after my journalism career took me across B.C. since I was 19 years old.
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