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Social media video vital to police

MISSISSAUGA, ON. - The meteoric rise of video in social media has become a game changer that police should embrace rather than resist, says the outgoing head of the Ontario agency that investigates cops for potential criminal wrongdoing.

Reflecting on his five years as director of the Special Investigations Unit, Ian Scott says video has had a huge impact, and police should be looking at expanding its use.

“This is imagery that the police can have no control over. They bring the issue of police use of force in high focus for the public," Scott says. “My view is they should be embracing the concept of video imagery."


October 3, 2013
By Corrie Sloot

MISSISSAUGA, ON. – The meteoric rise of video in social media has become a game changer that police should embrace rather than resist, says the outgoing head of the Ontario agency that investigates cops for potential criminal wrongdoing.

Reflecting on his five years as director of the Special Investigations Unit, Ian Scott says video has had a huge impact, and police should be looking at expanding its use.

“This is imagery that the police can have no control over. They bring the issue of police use of force in high focus for the public,’’ Scott says.

“My view is they should be embracing the concept of video imagery.’’

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Scott, 61, who leaves the SIU post this month, says he would like to see officers wear “lapelcams’’ to record interactions with the public.

He is especially keen to see all police stun guns equipped with “Tasercams’’ that record video and audio when the weapon is readied for firing.

“I can’t think of a better device to guarantee that Tasers are being used appropriately,’’ Scott says.

“For $400, this is the deal of the century because they’re going to solve a million hours of investigations.’’

The former Crown and defence lawyer concedes that prosecuting police is difficult.

“They have access to very good lawyers and lots of money for their defence.’’
During his tenure, Scott has laid 57 charges. Twenty-one cases are currently before the courts. Of the 36 others, 14 resulted in convictions.

Overall, about four per cent of cases the agency investigates lead to charges. It’s a percentage Scott says doesn’t worry him because he’s confident he has thoroughly reviewed the rest of the files.

Police are required to call in the SIU when police action results in death or serious injury. There’s not much to quibble about when someone dies, but the concept of “serious injury’’ remains a thorny one.
Ultimately, he says the legislature should come up with a definition that would be used province wide.

“I’ve tried to push this issue,’’ he says, noting cases where someone is badly hurt is the SIU’s “biggest growth area’’ and account for about 50 per cent of its probes.

Scott also admits to having had little success in his push to have the SIU report directly to the legislature, as do the province’s ombudsman and privacy commissioner, instead of to the Ministry of the Attorney General.

Scott believes he has had one pivotal success in raising the question of whether officers involved in SIU probes should be allowed to consult a single lawyer to vet their notes before turning them over to investigators.

The case is currently before the Supreme Court of Canada.

Ultimately, he says, it all comes down to public confidence in their police and in the civilian oversight of a group of people society has entrusted with a mandate to use lethal force.

“We’re the ultimate check and balance,’’ he says.“We are kind of the police of last resort.’’