Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Cameras worth it

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In an age where security cameras are everywhere, and just about everyone seems to carry a camera, it seems odd the only group in society without a video device is the one that arguably needs it most, the police.

That's about to change, however, as police departments across North America have been testing the use of body-worn cameras that provide a visual and audio record of everything an officer encounters.

The new Winnipeg Police Board on Friday asked the police service to consider the merits and costs of such a program. Four years ago, $1 million was budgeted to equip 800 police officers with cameras, but the technology was not considered optimum at that time and the price has probably increased.

Several large Canadian and American cities have tested the cameras with positive results. They improve the quality of evidence in prosecutions, reduce violent confrontations, speed up court cases and cut down on the number of citizen complaints against police.

Some police unions have opposed the cameras because they fear they could be used by supervisors to check on their work and could deter people from offering tips.

These concerns are easily managed, however. Police departments, for example, could adopt policies forbidding supervisors from inspecting camera records without a compelling reason to do so, and informers could still be guaranteed anonymity.

Body cameras would also protect police from false accusations, while ensuring officers do not exceed their authority.

The recent case of a fatal shooting of a man on a Toronto street car also highlights the value of police cameras. While a street-mounted camera seems to show the shooter acted recklessly, there was no camera angle showing what the officer was facing.

City council should encourage police to embrace the cameras, but if it is worried about the cost, it should consider whether the police helicopter has provided value for the money. The city and province have agreed to fund it until the end of this year, when it is to be re-evaluated. Unless there's evidence it has bolstered police operations in a meaningful way, it should be sold and the savings poured into initiatives that might actually make a difference.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 10, 2013 A8

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