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A city councillor wants Winnipeg police officers to wear body cameras, arguing they would help address complaints of racism and excessive force in policing.
Coun. Kevin Klein said he supports outfitting patrol officers with cameras that would automatically record entire police interactions.
"A body camera is unbiased. It just records what’s happening. It’s a reliable witness, if you will, to interactions with police," Klein said Wednesday.
The surveillance might help de-escalate tense situations, since officers and community members would both know they’re on camera, the Charleswood-Tuxedo-Westwood councillor said.
After complaints of police brutality triggered protests locally and around the world in recent months, Klein said there’s an urgency to add the technology and he would like to see the cameras in use next year.
"I don’t think it’s any secret that we have issues in our city and across the globe, quite frankly, of racism and excessive force at times, officers that are being questioned," he said, adding citizen cellphone videos of police interactions don't show the entire picture of a given situation.
"The public is losing trust in officers."
Klein raised an unsuccessful motion for council to fund the body cameras at Wednesday’s Assiniboia Community Committee meeting. It was defeated after the committee’s two other members argued the matter should instead be considered by the Winnipeg Police Board.
Klein said he’ll continue to push the item forward any way he can.
Markus Chambers, chairperson of the Winnipeg Police Board, said he would like to test police body cameras through a pilot project but isn’t convinced the city can afford a full implementation plan right now.
"A body camera is unbiased. It just records what’s happening. It’s a reliable witness, if you will, to interactions with police." ‐ Coun. Kevin Klein
"It’s something that has been in the budget now for the last few years as something that we would like to see but just don’t have the funds for," said Chambers.
In an emailed statement, the Winnipeg Police Service estimated it would cost between $8 million and $10 million to put a full body cam program in place, not including operating costs. But Klein believes the cost may be much lower, since the cost of the technology has fallen.
The statement noted WPS Chief Danny Smyth has publicly supported the idea of body-worn cameras for years. A pilot project to test them was approved in 2015, though it was cancelled over its cost, wrote WPS spokesman Const. Rob Carver.
That project has now been deferred to 2024, added Carver.
Mayor Brian Bowman said police must have a clear say in a decision to fund the devices.
"We’ll work with the Winnipeg Police Service on trying to meet their priorities," he said. "Obviously, these kinds of decisions on their capital are discussions that should happen with the Winnipeg Police Service."
Simply adding cameras to police uniforms will not, in itself, end excessive-force complaints and eliminate police distrust, some say.
University of Winnipeg associate criminal justice professor Kevin Walby, who studies the use of police body cameras, called the idea that body-cams will be effective in increasing accountability from police "mythical." Walby said that while some data might suggest slight improvements in accountability in policing, other data may suggest an increase in police use of force because the officer believes the video will vindicate them.
"Police and politicians, especially at this time when police legitimacy is in crisis, are touting these myths about the effectiveness of body cameras when academic research shows exactly the opposite," he said.
"I think we should reject the narrative that they actually help in policing. If they did, there’d be some research that demonstrated that in an overwhelming sense. There isn’t any."
Walby suggested WPS support for the cameras is a response to mounting calls from protesters to defund the police.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.
Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.
Updated on Wednesday, September 9, 2020 at 9:09 PM CDT: Tweaked lede sentence.
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