If a picture is worth a thousand words, what's a video worth?
Times have changed, society has evolved and technology has taken over. When we make an arrest, it's on YouTube within seconds; set up a checkpoint and it's on Facebook within minutes; make a mistake and it's on the national news within hours. In today's policing world we need to adopt what technology has to offer, changing and evolving with the times.
There has been a lot of talk about police-worn cameras used in the US. My goal here is to give you a truly Canadian perspective.
Recently, my partner and I responded to a disturbance call that resulted in a physical altercation. The incident escalated to OC failure and came to an end with the successful deployment of the conductive energy weapon (CEW). The best part was the entire incident was recorded on my partner's body camera.
The physical struggle lasted only three minutes, but like any police struggle it felt like a lifetime. Trying to capture everything that happened as evidence was truly impossible. The human brain is complex, works in funny ways and is not perfect. This was the first night my partner wore his body camera and after the incident we sat down and reviewed the video in awe. We didn't remember some of the things we said and did. It was both amazing and reassuring to see our training take over in a high-stress incident.
The body camera significantly increased the quality of our investigation but also has the potential to give the public an unbiased view of what actually happened. We learned what worked and what didn't; this video improved us as police officers and as a police unit.
The use of cameras in our daily lives has become the norm. We see something we like; we take out our phones and take a picture of it. We can take a video clip and, within seconds, send it to a friend across the country – so why are we so afraid of it? In recent cases of alleged police misconduct, a three second video clip was the most powerful piece of evidence so let's use it to our advantage. We can show the judge and jury what we saw and what really happened and use the technology to re-build our public confidence and deal with the people who run to the media and make false allegations.
A Canadian newspaper editor recently alleged police misconduct by a corporal who was trying to make our roads safer. The editor flat-out lied and used the power of the media, not to mention his elevated position within it, to broadcast a message designed to support his own personal cause. He tried to undermine the credibility of this police officer and the organization he represented. He lied about a person who leaves his family at night to protect the families of complete strangers. However, in this case, police fought back hard with video evidence from the corporal's patrol vehicle. Two words: case closed.
Video evidence is not the "new police thing." In Canada, video-recorded "KGB" statements (so-named after R. vs B (K.G.) (1993) 1 S.C.R. 740 - Supreme Court of Canada) are expected by Crowns, defence lawyers and judges alike, particularly in cases of domestic violence.
US police agencies are far ahead of those in Canada in adopting variants of excellent evidence-collecting technology such as body cameras. I am glad that my partner, a traffic cop at heart, took the initiative and purchased a body camera with his own money. When our bosses read our reports Monday morning and reviewed the video, they realized there were no concerns, no risk of a public complaint and no risk to the police officers who responded or to the organization they represent.
We are always looking for ways to better serve our clients, the people that we swore to protect. During our disturbance call, we identified a male who initially claimed to be the victim in an alleged offence. He wasn't previously known to us and we later discovered he gave us a false name. After reviewing the video with our fellow officers, we identified him as a prolific offender with an extensive criminal history and a long list of conditions. Without video evidence, the investigators would not have been able to lay charges against him, thus failing to make the community safer. The public expects us to make our communities safer and I think it's fair to say that we need all the help we can get.
Let's face it; a police agency is considered a corporate entity. In any corporate world, we need to protect ourselves from civil liability. In the incident to which my partner and I responded, the male claimed police brutality. When we reviewed the video there was none, just a false statement that would have otherwise cost thousands of dollars to investigate. I have been involved in a public compliant and we all know that it's not a pleasant process. With video evidence, we can rest assured that the truth will prevail.
We really need to "jump on the bandwagon" with video evidence. This is the tool to help us re-build the public's trust, increase the quality of our investigations, prevent false allegations and even help us weed out those unfit to do the job.
My partner and I have had the opportunity to use both the dash cam and a body worn camera. While any camera is better than none, we both prefer a body worn camera. Its ability to document the entire course of contact with clients is truly amazing; it's not limited to the confines of a patrol vehicle and allows an officer to review the video and create a detailed report about the incident. Also, in my own experience, no matter what camera I used, the agitated client in front of me takes a step back and adjusts their behaviour when I tell them our interaction is being captured on camera. By calming the client, the camera creates a safer, less stressful environment for both of us.
Here is some food for thought; my police agency is teaching us a new way to write our reports by putting the human element back into the process. Well, with video evidence supporting our written reports and notes, we can achieve that goal. The old days of being able to "justify anything" are over. It's time we showed the public what we face every day; it's time that they saw the truth.
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