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Body-mounted video pilots in Edmonton and Calgary


January 3, 2013
By Lucas Habib

by Lucas Habib

Police in Alberta’s two largest cities are testing body-mounted video (BMV).

The Edmonton Police Service (EPS) began a three-year pilot testing program in October 2011 while Calgary Police Service (CPS) is wrapping up a three-month pilot this month. The two services are testing different BMV units and will share information with each other as the pilots conclude.

EPS considered 16 different products before settling on Reveal Media’s RS3-SX and TASER’s Axon Flex. The RS3-SX is a chest-mounted unit which features a front-facing screen and fully articulated camera.

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The Axon Flex is a marker-sized camera designed for mounting on Oakley sunglasses or a helmet. It is linked by wire to a control unit/battery pack, allowing a lower profile, pre-event buffer recording and capability to view recorded videos on smartphones via Bluetooth.

EPS has outfitted 22 officers with the RS3-SX. To date, the Axon Flex has only been tested in a controlled environment but it may see some street action later this year.

CPS is testing the Panasonic WVTW310, which was released after Edmonton’s pilot got underway. Some of its features include a wide-angle lens and interaction with in-car video – when officers retrieve files from their shifts, in-car and BMV footage will be linked.

CPS currently has about 50 members in K9, gangs unit and general patrol wearing the cameras. Sgt. Evel Kiez says the service is analyzing the video for both stability and quality – “this isn’t ‘The Blair Witch Project’,” he jokes.

Both forces have instituted a number of safeguards to ensure that the public feels comfortable being recorded during interactions with police. While there are no Privacy Act concerns, people will naturally fear that the recordings could be altered by police who have broken laws or codes of conduct.

Dr. Mary Stratton, EPS research analyst, is coordinating the BMV pilot project along with project manager and technical security advisor Rick Tuson. Stratton says that officers are instructed to treat the camera as if it’s a notebook – leave it off most of the time but turn it on if they are about to get involved in any sort of incident that may become the subject of notes.

“Our guidelines tell officers to inform clients that they are being recorded as soon as it’s safe to do so,” she states. “Officer safety comes first.”

Stratton also emphasizes that members can’t edit or delete any footage. When they return from their shift, the cameras are checked in and data is automatically uploaded to secure servers. Each member can view his or her own footage but can’t view that of other officers or make edits.

Both Stratton and Kiez say that so far, no members have received any negative feedback from the public. Occasionally, says Kiez, a client will request that the video be turned off. Officers are instructed to explain why they’re wearing the BMV and how transparency is a benefit for everyone – and after hearing that rationale, all clients have agreed.

Overall, both Stratton and Kiez are happy with the video quality they’ve been receiving. Stratton says that the RS3-SX has performed well in low light and cold weather.

Kiez calls the use of video in a couple of incidents “life-altering.” In one case, an impaired driver refused to provide a breath sample to the breath tech and was cursing and hitting the walls.

“No defence lawyer would want to see that being played in a courthouse, so they will be more willing to cut a deal for early case resolution,” reasons Kiez. “That’s a time and money saver for both the police and the court system – and it gets officers back out on the street sooner.”