Dressed for video
By Elliott GoldsteinFeatures CCTV and the Law Opinion
Recent events have prompted some police forces to use wearable video cameras, also known as body-worn video (BWV) cameras, to record the interactions between police officers and the public.
For example, the Toronto Police Service is now running a pilot project with lapel-pin cameras. These cameras would show the event from the officer’s perspective and provide the Courts, and those investigating alleged police misconduct, with a more detailed and accurate account of the event.
According to a recent article in the Toronto Star, “Former Special Investigations Unit director Ian Scott is among those in the justice system advocating for more use of video by police in the wake of last summer’s police shooting” of an 18-year-old man and “the Toronto Police Services Board will soon consider a policy of encouraging the public to film officers on duty.”
Critics argue that the move to equip frontline police officers with these wearable cameras is politically motivated. In the past several years, police behaviour has come under increased scrutiny because of “citizen video” – the use of (mainly) smartphone cameras to capture events involving the police. Supporters of police-worn video cameras say it would protect officers against unfounded complaints because “citizen video” does not always show what the officer actually saw but only provides a third party’s viewpoint of what occurred. If police had their own cameras, the recorded video would assist in determining credibility and eliminate the problem of one person’s word, or version of events, versus another.
In a recent criminal case in the U.K., as reported in New Scientist magazine last October, a man was successfully prosecuted for threatening to harm a police officer and his children during an incident that occurred at a hospital in Hampshire. “The policeman was wearing a video camera that captured every word,” states the article. Furthermore, 450 such cameras are being rolled out to Hampshire police officers.
From a legal perspective, the cameras gather potential evidence that can assist the trier of fact (i.e., the judge or the jury). Video from a wearable camera is a great fact-finding tool. Provided that the chain of custody of the video can be proven (i.e., what happened to, and who had access to, the video from the time it was recorded until it was tendered in evidence at trial), and provided that an authenticating witness can testify that the video is a true and accurate reproduction, fair and not misleading, then it should be admitted so long as that the trial judge finds its probative value outweighs its prejudicial effect (if any).
Some police departments have reported BWV cameras equipped with front-facing screens have a deterrent effect on would-be complainants and police-assaulters. According to the New Scientist article, civil libertarians support the use of BWV because of its potential to reduce “abuse of police power.” However, all agree that the BWV cameras must be record the entire interaction between the police and the public (no editing permitted!) and the recording must be backed-up on secure police servers and retained for future use as evidence.
Elliott Goldstein, B.A., J.D. is a Woodbridge, Ont.-based lawyer (email@example.com).
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