Body Worn Cameras. Do we adopt the technology or not?
That is a big question as we focus on preparing our 2019-2022 business plan. The answer seems obvious until you start considering all the factors. As you may know, the Medicine Hat Police Service has been testing both in-car cameras and body worn cameras for several months now and we are still weighing the cost versus the benefit.
Even among our small sample of officers testing the product we have varying opinions. Some really like them, some do not and some are quite neutral and uncommitted. The results are somewhat expected as they reflect the change-adaption bell curve almost perfectly.
The opinion of the officers is only one of many things to consider. The full suite of services offered ,which includes evidence storage, interview and cell block cameras could cost up to $1 million over five years, and that is not considering the cost of supporting the technology.
When discussing this with our Police Commission, I had estimated an additional 20 per cent in support costs and one commission member with similar experience thought my estimate was low considering the reality around managing, redacting and disclosing the data.
Council has been clear in their messaging about tight fiscal responsibility for the next budget cycle and the expense will have to come from somewhere. Almost 90per cent of the Police Service budget relates to staffing costs, so if we have to find the money from within, it will most likely equate to less cops on the street.
Officers are more accountable for their behaviour than ever before, and to some extent this technology definitely creates greater transparency and accountability. I remember all to well a fatal motor vehicle collision that occurred on a highway close to Medicine Hat in which both MHPS and RCMP were involved. The dash camera mounted in the RCMP car captured some critical data that may have otherwise never have been available.
The test pilot has yet to clearly demonstrate that the cameras are making a difference and no evidence has been introduced at court yet because of the technology. While other agencies have piloted the technology, as of yet no Alberta police agency has rolled it out. Although I have heard on the down low that a larger agency is soon to commit to full deployment of cameras.
In the meanwhile, our pilot project will continue and I am hopeful that the answer will become clear. The ultimate question in everything we do is what would our community expect us to do? If you have thoughts on this topic that you would like to share with us send an email to [email protected].
Police Chief Andy McGrogan has been a member of the Medicine Hat Police Service for 37 years, and has been serving as chief since 2008.