A Case of Role Reversal

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Taser Cams

What is a Taser Cam?  Quite simply it’s a digital audio and video recording device that’s attached to the battery that powers the Taser. 

What does the Taser Cam do?  Once the Taser is removed from its holster and activated it starts recording.

What does the Taser Cam cost?  $400 to $500 (USD) per unit.

Which model of Taser will accommodate the Taser Cam?  Model X26

Which model of Taser do the Winnipeg Police use?  Model X26

How many Tasers does the Winnipeg Police Service have?  In the range of 175

What would it cost to equip the Winnipeg Police Service with Taser Cams?  Between 70 and 90 thousand dollars

Why don’t the Winnipeg Police use Taser Cams?   That’s a question worth considering.     

Based on the 2010 capital budget submissions it seems that the Winnipeg Police Service is preparing to spend a fair bit of cash on digital recording technology.  The 2010-2015 preliminary capital budget contains $523,000.00 for digital recoding devices in interview rooms in 2012.  It also contains $1,000,000.00 (yes you read that right, it’s one million) for an officer mobile video system in 2015.  These preliminary capital budget figures would seem to suggest that capturing the actions of officers and suspects on video is of some importance. 

Capturing the actions of officers on video is especially important in circumstances where force is used.  This became very apparent as the Braidwood Inquiry into the RCMP use of Taser at the Vancouver airport unfolded.  The Braidwood Inquiry was able to rely on some video recorded by a by-stander but in most cases police use of Tasers is unrecorded.  Unrecorded, despite the fact that the technology to do so exists, and is relatively affordable.   Using an estimate of 175 Taser units the cost of equipping the Winnipeg Police Service with Taser Cam would be under 100 thousand dollars. 

With the existing climate in Canada regarding Taser use it is in everyone’s interest to record their use.  A video of each and every Taser deployment would establish an unbiased record of what took place.  It would serve to protect both the public and the police.  It would curb any misuse of Tasers by police, and it would nullify complaints against police about Taser use in situations where they were clearly appropriately deployed.  

Perhaps this is any area where Standing Committee on Protection and Community Services could ask the police to do a study and submit a report.  Careful examination might reveal that although the police have not asked for and perhaps don’t want Taser Cams, they may actually need them.   

Pictured below (left) is the Taser Cam and (right) a Taser X26 gun.  (Images retrieved from the Taser International website on 09 11 24) http://www.taser.com/products/law/Pages/default.aspx

 

High Tech Surveillance in Amish Country

Lancaster is a relatively peaceful city of 54,000 people situated in the heart of Pennsylvania’s Amish country.  Horse drawn buggies are not unusual in the surrounding area.  It certainly does not have the same level of crime as many large American cities.  Last year there were 3 murders in Lancaster.  

Lancaster is in the process of installing 165 surveillance cameras.  This blanket of surveillance comes as the result of the recommendations of a  2001 special commission which recommended the 2.7 million dollar system.  Once fully operational, Lancaster will have more surveillance cameras than some large cities like Philadelphia and Boston.   

Unlike other jurisdictions where surveillance cameras are primarily controlled and monitored by police, the Lancaster model relies on civilian monitors who are screened, trained and employed by the Lancaster Community Safety Coalition.   

The use of civilian monitors has raised some privacy concerns.  

The CCTV initiative in Lancaster is supported by local  police.  Statistical evidence as to the effectiveness of the system is as yet inconclusive.

Cameras Solve Crime

Investing in technology such as CCTV to help solve crime may be a prudent use of public funds but only if the evidence supports the investment.  The results of the Winnipeg CCTV Pilot Project are not yet known  but a recent internal police review in the UK shed some light on the effectiveness of the CCTV network in London, England.  

The study reported that in the last year in London 1000 crimes were solved as a result of CCTV.  

That may sound like an impressive number but it has prompted David Davis MP to lament the spending of crime prevention dollars on CCTV.  According to Davis CCTV is a very expensive approach considering its the minimal effectiveness.

London police are looking at measures that can be taken to increase the effectiveness of CCTV and have several projects ongoing to address the issue.  The projects center on how images are retrieved and distributed. 

In case you were wondering London has 1 million cameras in place: that equates to 1 crime solved for every 1000 cameras.

CCTV on Winnipeg Streets

 

The Winnipeg Police Service recently announced that it would be implementing a Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) Pilot Project in Downtown Winnipeg.  

The cost of the project in terms of additional expenditures over and above the existing police budget was set at $460,000.00.  That may not seem like a lot of money when considered in the context of the Services’ overall budget. To put a human face on it, though, it would translate into putting 4 additional officers on the street for a year. 

One would think that the Police Service and the City would not initiate this type of expenditure unless they were fairly confident that the Pilot Project would deliver the predicted results.  The desired outcomes as listed in the Services’ October 2008 report to Standing Policy Committee on Protection and Community Services include: reduce victimization; create a safer environment; and establish a tool for investigation.  The report goes on to describe specific objectives and the criteria that will be used to evaluate the effectiveness of the pilot project.   

One of the interesting features of this report is the total lack of enthusiasm the Police Service expresses for this project.  This is reflected in phrases such as “the Winnipeg Police Services endorses the opportunity to apply technology…” and “The Winnipeg Police Service acknowledges the potential for adding video surveillance technology as part of an integrated public safety strategy…”  The level of interest and support is underwhelming.    What accounts for this lack of enthusiasm?  

Perhaps it is an inability to find definitive support or evidence that CCTV actually will deliver on its stated objectives.  The October report implies that the Services examined at least some of the many studies that have been done on this subject when it says “Although some studies state that cameras can make a difference in crime rates, it is difficult to determine if there is in reality a single factor that can be attributed as the deterrent effect”.  The studies looked at aren’t cited, nor is there any mention of studies that suggest cameras have a limited deterrent effect.  One might anticipate a greater degree of due diligence when the city is looking at spending close to half a million dollars.  

Despite the apparent lack of enthusiasm exhibited by the Police Service, and the lack of evidence put forward to support the use of cameras, the project gained approval from Standing Committee, Executive Policy Committee as well as Council, and is being implemented.   

Is this an example of funding and implementing the pet project of a councilor or perhaps the mayor?  The original motion directing the Police Service to “investigate the feasibility of developing a pilot project” was moved by councilor Fielding and seconded by the Mayor.  That may explain the lack luster response from the Police Service. 

Is this a vanity project?  Does someone want to be able to say ‘I brought CCTV to Winnipeg’? 

If indeed this is a vanity project and the City is looking for other technology based approaches that could be implemented, I have a suggestion:  Taser International has a neat little device that attaches to the Tasers carried by members of the Police Service.  It’s called the Taser Cam.  You guessed it, the camera activates every time the Taser is deployed.  This technology might serve equally well in making the citizens of Winnipeg feel safer, and it would have the added benefit of protecting officers from accusations of Taser misuse.  I think in this case a study might even show that there is evidence to support such expenditure of public monies.