Body cameras for Halifax police not an option yet

Clearer policies for use needed, says board of commissioners

Police officers in Halifax won’t be equipped with body-worn cameras until at least 2022.

The board of police commissioners decided Monday it wants to see clearer policies developed for the use of the cameras, as well as a privacy impact assessment, before the project moves forward.

Most commissioners support body-worn cameras “in principle” as a way to improve the relationship between police and citizens, Coun. Lindell Smith said in a meeting. But he added that they “want to make sure the policy is right” before putting money in the budget.

The board unanimously passed Smith’s motion to defer the discussion on body-worn cameras for a year.

Commissioners last discussed the topic at a meeting on Dec. 14. Smith brought up concerns about surveillance on already over-policed communities and wanted more information about possible drawbacks.

A supplementary report prepared for Monday’s meeting states that “researchers have raised the concern that cameras do not address underlying issues related to systemic racism.”

Question of privacy and budget

The board asked for a clearer idea of how the video footage from body-worn cameras will be used and when it can be released to the public.

Insp. Greg Robertson with Halifax Regional Police said Monday that in situations of public interest, the police would need the consent of the people or businesses in the video before it could be released.

If the media asked through a Freedom of Information request for specific footage — for example, all video taken at a certain street — Robertson said that it would be a “difficult request to grant.”

Searching through data by location isn’t an option for all body-worn cameras. Robertson isn’t sure what vendors offer that software.

Right now the proposed price for the project is $3.71 million over five years, costing between $690,000 and $890,000 each year.

Commissioners Carole McDougall and Coun. Lisa Blackburn cited budget concerns as another reason to pause the discussion.

McDougall said she sees the value of body-worn video, but she’s mindful of reductions in the budget because of COVID-19 and the movement to defund the police.

“I’m really in a bit of an unsure place right now,” she said in the meeting.

Body cameras are used in some areas of Nova Scotia: police in Kentville started using them after a 2015 pilot project, and Truro implemented them last year.

Sarah Moore

Sarah Moore

Sarah Moore is a journalist from Calgary who is working in Halifax.

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