In a move “to ensure the city has a police service accountable to those they serve,” the St. Thomas Police Service will soon undertake a pilot project to evaluate the use of body cameras.
The decision to proceed with the test was approved Wednesday by the Police Services Board, advised chairman Dave Warden.
He continued, “The St. Thomas Police Services Board supports building public trust, community support and enhancing officer safety and public safety.”
We caught up with Police Chief Chris Herridge the next day for insight into the partnership with Axon Public Safety Canada, which supplies the service with Tasers.
The critical first step, stressed Herridge, is the trial run with a limited number of officers over a yet-to-be-determined period of time.
“There’s a number of things that we have to take a look at (data)storage, maintenance, who is going to look after that storage, how much storage is required and ongoing costs.
“So there are a number of things that we want to make sure we understand before we make a full commitment.”
He is in full agreement with the board’s position there is value in having body-worn cameras.
“As was mentioned by the board yesterday,” continued Herridge, “it’s going to help with building public trust. It’s going to help gain community support and increase officer safety and public safety.
“I think that speaks volumes for the board as to their commitment to ensuring that we have an accountable police service to those we serve, but also enhancing the safety of the officers and members of the public as well.”
Going further Herridge noted, “it’s also going to help with evidence collection, you know, accountability and transparency. It’s going to help with encounters between the police and the public, and especially when some of those encounters may lead to a complaint.
“And, as with any complaint about the police and the public, we need to resolve those as soon as possible because it’s stressful for both sides.
“And if we got some video footage that can assist, that’s going to expedite the investigation.
“Now, as you know with any video, sometimes the angle doesn’t give the full story and no different with a body-worn camera. The lens is going to face forward if it’s mounted on the officer’s body or on his chest somewhere. And it doesn’t always follow the eyes of the officer, especially if you’re looking over your shoulder at something and the camera is not going to go in that direction.
“So, I guess that’s why we have to be realistic about the expectations from the public on body-worn cameras.”
A critical component of the body-cam program will be policy development, advised Herridge.
“We need to ensure part of our policy development is to take a look at when the camera can be turned on and when the camera can be turned off. And the nice thing about it when developing policy and doing our own review is we know Toronto has done an extensive review. We know that Durham (Oshawa region) has done an extensive review and there are a lot of reviews out of the U.S., albeit those police services are much bigger than us.”
So the go-to police service may very well be a smaller force in Kentville, Nova Scotia that already employs body cameras.
“So they’re smaller than us. But again, it’s an opportunity to find out some of the issues that they may have come across. Some of the benefits that they’re seeing, some of the pitfalls that they’ve fallen into so that we don’t run into the same thing.”
“And you know what, we have to be honest, too, that the current climate is no doubt pushing us on toward body-worn cameras. And that’s not a bad thing.”
Herridge stressed the step forward to a pilot project is not prompted solely by the current protests against police brutality and calls to defund police forces.
In fact, they were on the radar of former chief Darryl Pinnell and in the service’s five-year capital budget at that time.
“But I think we’re at that stage now. There’s been enough research out there by varying police services that it’s going to make it probably a little easier for smaller police services like us to do our homework on it, so that we can move forward and not have to put a lot of expense into it just because we can reach out to our partners and find out with regards to policy and any issues that they came across, cost and what are your recommendations with regard to storage, training, and ongoing maintenance?
“All those questions have already been answered by some other police service out there. So that’s going to help us move forward.
“And you know what, we have to be honest, too, that the current climate is no doubt pushing us on toward body-worn cameras. And that’s not a bad thing.
“Anytime that we can take a look at how we can build better relationships with our community, which helps the community and helps the police service.”
The key, Herridge indicated, is during the pilot project there is a need to get feedback from throughout the service. From front-line officers, street crime officers, detectives and court officers.
The police association has already endorsed the pilot project, with Const. Scott Berge, STPA president noting, “The St. Thomas Police Association supports the pilot project and looks forward to partnering with Axon. The cameras will provide transparency protecting the public and our officers.”
As to the cost of equipping the force, Herridge advised there are a number of variables.
“And those are the numbers that we’ll have to figure out. And that’s the power of the pilot project as well. And the numbers will range depending on the number of cameras that are required, it’s going to depend on the amount of storage that’s required – albeit it goes in the cloud – but there’s still going to be a storage cost associated with that.
“We have to train our members so there’s going to be ongoing maintenance costs. Acquiring the technology itself and managing the information because, as you can imagine, with the camera rolling maybe 12 hours and that’s just for one officer.
“We have to take a look at all that information, how we’re going to store that and what information gets saved. And, we’ve got to take a look at privacy concerns, when to turn the camera on, when to turn it off.”
And, that’s the value of having the experience gained by police in Kentville, stressed Herridge. The Nova Scotia force has just 17 officers while the St. Thomas Police Service numbers 73.
“If we can find the impact from one officer, I guess it’s just a matter of doing some calculations and giving us a ballpark on how it’s going to impact our organization. And again, that’s a part of the trial.
“If we do a trial for a month let’s say, I’m not too sure if that’s going to be the length of it or not, but if we do it for 30 days, and we involve 10 officers, we’ll get a real good feel at the end of those 30 days.”
And then there is the matter of privacy, not only with the body cameras but also the security cameras to be installed downtown.
“People can apply for a Freedom of Information request and obtain information as it relates directly to them, of course, and not to someone else.”
Herridge notes the service is not “overwhelmed” with FOI requests at this time, even though he estimates the service has up to 30,000 interactions with the public on an annual basis.
“But there’s so much else involved when it comes to policing and engaging with community members.”
Of critical concern with regard to privacy issues, stressed Herridge is when to turn the camera on or off.
There will be times when individuals pass through the camera’s field of view or within earshot of the microphone but there is no direct interaction with the officer.
These are not simple issues, conceded Herridge.
“We definitely don’t want to lose a case before the courts, if we make an error as to when the camera should be on and off. And, we don’t want to impede on someone’s privacy either.
“We have to have an understanding of the privacy of the officer as well. If he’s on his lunch break or communicating with his family, these are things that have to be taken into consideration.”
And there is the delicate matter of public education on the use of body cameras.
“It is another valuable option in the police officer’s toolbox but it’s not the be-all and end-all. It’s a tool to help us with regard to interactions out in the public.
“But there’s so much else involved when it comes to policing and engaging with community members.”
We have a call into police in Kentville to help answer some of the questions that, inevitably, will be raised by all parties involved.
CHANGE IN PLANS
At Monday’s (June 13) meeting, council approved a one-day noise exemption at 96 Moore Street – the Alma College property – for a massive undertaking related to Phase 1 of the three-tower residential project now underway.
The exemption was for a 16-hour period – 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. on July 4 for the pouring of concrete for an underground parking garage.
Well, according to city clerk Maria Konefal, Sierra Contracting is ahead of schedule and the day-long pour has been moved up to June 27.
To give you an idea as to the scope of the project, it is expected to require approximately 350 truckloads of concrete or about 29 trucks per hour for the gargantuan undertaking.
City manager Wendell Graves advised it is one of the largest concrete pours ever in St. Thomas and London.
He added the operation should not impact local traffic as all staging of the vehicles will be right on the Alma property with an entrance off Ross Street via a service road.
Should the weather not cooperate, the undertaking could revert back to the original date or July 11.
If you plan on attending the Horton Market as it opens today, keep in mind the Saturday morning institution will be under scrutiny regarding COVID-19 health and safety procedures.
Unlike the past, it is not a place to go and socialize, at least for the time being.
It will be an outdoor market only and limited to 75 customers at any one time and the market building will remain closed except for use of the washroom.
As Mayor Joe Preston cautioned last week, “This is not a family gathering. You are going to the market alone. It is a shopping event. If you don’t, we don’t have the ability to deal with the number of people we’re talking about.
“We’re going to make a lot of noise to ensure that is the case. Let’s do this in a COVID-19 2020 world properly.”
THE READER’S WRITE
In response to our item two weeks ago on Valleyview Home during the COVID-19 pandemic, Peggi Lou contributed the following.
“We have had no outbreaks at Extendicare in Port Stanley either, we have great staff and management.”
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