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‘A picture is worth 1,000 words’: Police now wearing cameras

'We are committed to bias-free policing. From our standpoint, (recordings) provide feedback on how our officers are interacting with members of the community,' says chief
An Axon body-worn camera is seen being worn by a South Simcoe Police officer in the service's South Division building in Bradford, on Wednesday, May 24, 2023.

The next time you interact with a police officer, remember to smile, because you’ll probably be on camera.

During an update to the South Simcoe Police Service Board this week, Chief John Van Dyke confirmed the service has completed the six-week staggered rollout for body-worn cameras, noting all police members who are active in the field are currently equipped with them.

The rollout began on March 5 and as of May 15, Van Dyke reported that 73 of the 75 Axon body-worn cameras have been deployed and have recorded 5,539 videos, with only one camera failure, which was replaced under warranty.

Van Dyke said he has made the rounds and consulted with every supervisor and platoon within the service, and general response from members has been positive.

“Some were fine, some were a little skeptical at first, but they like having them and they like how it improves the compliance and reduces arguments,” he said.

As an example, he related that officers employing the cameras during traffic stops with unpleasant individuals find that as soon as they inform the person the conversation is being recorded “the mood changes right away.”

More specifically, Van Dyke referenced an incident from Monday, May 22, when an officer was bitten by a dog while responding to a neighbour dispute on Line 8.

“I’ve reviewed the footage from when our officer was bitten by a dog, and it’s such valuable evidence. Nobody can ever say we provoked that dog in any way. Overall a picture is worth 1,000 words,” he said.

Board chair Chris Gariepy praised the program implementation.

“From a board perspective I think we’re pretty proud of you and everybody in the service over how well it’s gone,” he said, adding later, “The body-worn camera update is great news for the community and it only supports the decision that we made as a board a little over a year ago.”

When explaining why the board decided to employ the cameras, Gariepy cited both officer safety and community awareness as impetuses, but suggested it wasn’t a simple decision to make.

“What the board had to wrestle with was the significant capital costs to implement it and going forward the operational cost is significant, but ... the board is really supportive of moving forward and continuing with the body-worn cameras,” he said.

Board member and Mayor of Bradford West Gwillimbury, James Leduc, wasn’t yet on the board when the decision was made, but said had he been, he would have supported it.

“I’m big believer in cameras and I really think the body-worn cameras are going to help us when it comes to court cases and things like that. I fully support the body camera program 100 per cent,” he said.

Van Dyke said some reasons for implementing the program are openness, transparency, compliance, officer safety, and feedback on interactions.

“We are committed to bias-free policing. From our standpoint, (recordings) provide feedback on how our officers are interacting with members of the community.”

While he emphasized the benefit of having recordings for evidence in court, Van Dyke couldn’t say for certain if it would reduce the amount of time officers will spend testifying.

“It’s too early to tell, but what we hear from other services that have gone before us that it does result in more guilty pleas where there’s good body-worn camera footage,” he said.

The program also comes with its own challengers, and a new hurdle for police is the amount of time officers are required to spend watching the videos in order to certify redacted portions as requested by the Crown or lawyers. So far, the service has only handled 61 requests for certified redacted videos, but Van Dyke expects that to grow significantly.

“Once it becomes known in the legal community that we have it, we’ll start to get more (requests). It starts with a trickle and it will become a river eventually,” he said.

To help address the issue, the service expects to have one full-time redactor hired by July, and the service is working with the Crown’s office to have officers fill out affidavits for videos.

“Stayed tuned on that, because it is a little bit of work, but generally it’s going to save us a lot of time,” said Van Dyke.

Michael Owen

About the Author: Michael Owen

Michael Owen has worked in news since 2009 and most recently joined Village Media in 2023 as a general assignment reporter for BradfordToday
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