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

 

Advertisements

Peel’s Seventh Principle

Principle Seven 

To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen, in the interests of community welfare and existence. 

Peel’s seventh principle is perhaps the most well know and most often quoted.  The historic tradition referenced by Peel is the tradition of community members coming to each other’s aid.  The principle in essence says that it is incumbent on all citizens to perform, on a part time basis, the policing function in the interest of community welfare and existence.  Police officers are simply citizens paid to do on a full time basis what all citizens are expected to do on an ad hoc basis.  This principle embodies the foundation of what has more recently come to be known as community policing. 

So what does it mean for the public to be the police.  Firstly it implies that the public has a stake and interest in the welfare of the community.  It also requires that the public act in the best interests of the community.  It means that it is incumbent on the public to take action when ‘community welfare’ is threatened. 

Although this principle is often cited by community activists and used as an indicator of the degree of alienation that exists between the police and the public, the fact is that maintaining the tradition enunciated in this principle is a two edged sword.  The principle puts a heavy emphasis on both the police and the public to do their part. 

It is not uncommon to hear complaints from the community that the police are not fulfilling their obligations.  An equally common complaint in policing circles is that the public is not living up to its obligation.  We often hear the comment ‘the police cannot do it alone’.  When you examine the ratio of police to population which is in the range of 1:500 it becomes obvious why the police need public assistance.

The police have an obligation to deliver professional police services on behalf of the public and the public has an obligation to assist the police. 

This means that the public is under an obligation to take action when ‘community welfare’ is threatened. 

Community welfare is a somewhat nebulous term.  It embodies the notion of maintaining a set of community standards and values that allow society to function in keeping with the values of society. 

In Canadian society we value our personal freedoms and rights.  One of those rights is the ownership of personal property and the enjoyment of that property.  The commission of crimes that affect that right, such as auto theft and break-ins, represent a threat to our personal rights and to community welfare.  Under Peel’s model the public has an obligation to assist police in preventing such crimes, and in instances where crimes are or have been committed in assisting police in apprehending the culprits.

The community cannot simply say ‘let the police handle it, that is what they are paid to do’.   Although that is indeed what the police are paid to do, if the police are expected to do it alone without public support, then the size of police departments needs to be increased dramatically if crime is to be held in check. 

So what type of public action did Peel envision on the part of the public?  British Common Law and the Canadian Criminal Code provide provision for members of the public to make citizen arrests in certain circumstances.  In the 1800’s, when criminals were much less likely to be armed this was a more viable option than at present.  Because of the dangers inherent in citizen arrests most police agencies discourage citizens from making arrests.  

There are, however, other measures that, citizens can take.  In the communication era citizens can be in almost instant contact with police via cell phone and provide real time information about crimes in progress.  Also, with existing technology digital photographs that can provide evidence can be taken.  As well, citizens who learn information about crime can pass that information on to police, not to collect a Crime Stoppers reward, but as an obligation of citizenship.    

On the police side of the equation, police must be equipped to receive and deal with information from the public in a professional manner.  One of the often heard complaints from the public is that information passed on to police seems to enter a void, a massive black hole and does not result in action by police.  When police receive information from the public they are under an obligation to deal with it in a professional manner and to report back to citizens what action if any was taken.  The public does not expect miracles but they do expect and have a right to know what action was taken as a result of the information they provided.  Police failure to provide feedback and close the communication loop is often cited as the reason citizens no longer call police and provide information as frequently as in the past.   

So who is mandated to maintain the traditional relationship between the police and the public?  It’s the police.  How do police maintain the relationship?  By living up to their professional obligations and embodying in their day to day practices the values and attitudes espoused by Peel in the first six principles.      

That, however, is much easier said than done and requires a dedicated commitment to the community that few police agencies are prepared to make.

Education as a Crime Prevention Strategy

Crime Prevention Through Education 

As society evolves, the work world becomes more complex and demanding.  The ability of high school dropouts to find meaningful work is diminishing. 

A recent study in the United States suggests that a significant percentage of high school dropouts are turning their backs on the American dream and are turning instead to crime.

The study conducted by the Center for Labour Studies at Northeastern University yields some sobering data.  The number of male high school dropouts in jail or juvenile detention at any given time is one in 10.  This compares to one in 35 for males who graduated high school.  The rate was even higher for young black men (1:4).

The study suggested a direct link between lack of education and the inability to find employment, and between unemployment rates and crime. 

The collective social cost of unemployment and crime is staggering in terms of economic loss and the related cost of social services and incarceration.  In the United States, the per person added cost for each high school dropout is between $200,000 and $290,000. 

The numbers in Canada may vary from the United States but the trend is no doubt similar:  lack of education equates to lack of conventional, non-criminal economic opportunity.  Although the Northeastern study did not generate the same data for young women, it did track teen pregnancy rates and found that female high school dropouts  are nine times more likely to become single mothers than young women who went on to complete college. 

The implications are clear:  keeping young men and women in high school is positive at the personal, social as well as the economic level. 

In the United States the incarceration rate for young black men is disproportionately high.  In Canada and particularly in Manitoba the incarceration rate for young Aboriginal men is also disproportionately high.  Like the high school completion rate for young black men in the United States, the high school completion rate for young Aboriginal men in Canada is substantially lower than for non Aboriginal men. 

Perhaps we need to seriously  look at education as a crime prevention strategy.  Crime prevention approaches in Canada and the United States in the past 30 years have concentrated on target hardening techniques.  Such approaches which include better locks on windows and doors, marking personal property for identification and the installation of home and business alarms are positive.  However, in an economic sense they only address the supply side of the equation.  Target hardening reduces the number of easy targets (supply) but does nothing to address the demand side of the equation.  As a matter of fact, target hardening alone may simply encourage innovation and closer working relationships between individual criminals.  Young criminals may start working collectively in groups (perhaps gangs) to increase their chances of success and reduce the possibility of being apprehended.  

Perhaps it is time for all three levels of government to view high school graduation and education in general from a crime prevention perspective and address the demand side of the equation.  Education leads to employment and the ability to participate in society.  Education creates a sense of well-being and individual freedom and independence.  Education creates opportunities for young people and diminishes the relative attractiveness of crime.

Racial Bias Exists in the Toronto Police Service

Does Racial Bias Exist within the Winnipeg Police Service?

Proposition 1     Racial bias exists in society at large.

Proposition 2     Police agencies hire employees that are representative of society.

Conclusion          Some police officers hold racially biased views.

The question should not be,” does racial bias exist?” but rather, how prevalent is it and how does it affect the delivery of police services to the citizens of Winnipeg. 

The first step in effectively dealing with racial bias in police agencies is recognition from the very top of the organization that it exists.  No organization is able to take effective steps to address an issue until it first recognizes that the issue exists.  If a police chief does not recognize that racial bias exists within a police service, then there is no need to address it.  Racial bias is not an issue that lends itself to change percolating up from the bottom of the organization.  It requires decisive leadership from the top. 

 As recently as 2002, then Toronto Police Chief Julian Fantino took the position that racial bias did not exist within the Toronto Police Service.  The police union followed up with a $2.7 billion class action libel lawsuit against the Toronto Star. * Seven years later current Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair not only recognized that racial bias exists within the Toronto Police Service but also recognized that racial profiling is a problem.   

The recognition by Chief Blair that racial bias exists within the Toronto Police Service demonstrates true leadership.  It makes it easier for other police chiefs to admit the obvious.  If racial bias exists within the Toronto Police Service it’s hard to imagine that somehow Winnipeg and other major Canadian police agencies are immune. 

In Toronto, Chief Blair has followed up with action that has created positive results in the area of female and visible minority recruitment and hiring. The hiring of women and visible minorities has increased dramatically.  Recruit classes used to have from 10-15 percent female and visible minority representation.  Women and visible minorities now account for 30-40 percent of recruits in typical recruit classes.   The Toronto Police Service has also invited the Ontario Human Rights commission to conduct a review of its policy and procedure. 

Some measures that the Winnipeg Police Service might consider to improve race relations and address the racial bias issue are:

  • Public recognition that racial bias exists within the Service and a commitment from  the top to address it;
  • Employ innovative recruiting strategies to boost the hiring of members of minority groups;
  • Revamp the mandate of the existing Race Relations Unit, and staff it appropriately;
  • Provide meaningful training and education on racial bias and racial profiling at all levels of the organization;
  • Develop partnerships with minority communities;
  • Fully investigate all race related complaints and demonstrate that race motivated misconduct will not be tolerated;
  • Develop a partnership with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission and invite a review of the Service’s personnel policies and procedures;
  • Form research relationships with the two local Universities and engage in proactive research to establish the extent of racial bias within the Service and approaches to address it.

 

*The lawsuit was dismissed by the Supreme Court of Canada which upheld a previous Ontario Superior Court decision.

Peel’s Fifth Principle

Principle 5 

To seek and to preserve public favour, not by pandering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolutely impartial service to law, in complete independence of policy, and without regard to the justice or injustices of the substance of individual laws; by ready offering of individual service and friendship to all members of the public without regard to their wealth or social standing; by ready exercise of courtesy and friendly good humour; and by ready offering of individual sacrifice in protecting and preserving life. 

This principle gets to the meat of the matter in terms of separating policing from political influence. Public favour is maintained not by catering to the wants and needs of interest groups in society but rather by complete and total impartial service to the law.  Everyone is deemed equal before the law and through observance of the rule of impartiality the police can make that a reality.  

Police policies must be independent of political influence and they cannot and should not be over-ridden by political agendas.  Police policy must provide equality of service to all citizens.  It must not matter that one knows the premier, a member of the Legislative Assembly, the mayor or a city counselor.  The true test of the equality of a system is the ability to get the same service and treatment despite the fact that you have no political connections.  This separation of politics and policy does not imply that politicians cannot provide policy direction.  It simply means that once policy has been put in place there should be no attempt by politicians to influence outcomes or interject themselves into situations on a case by case basis.  To do so would “pierce the sacred veil of operations”, the veil being the invisible barrier that separates political decision making from operational decision making.   

Police must refrain from being publicly critical of existing legislation.  The role of the police is to enforce laws, not to criticize legislation.  The police must also refrain from criticizing judicial decisions as doing so undermines the administration of justice.  Criticism of the law and judicial decisions, especially in terms of sentencing decisions, reveals a glaring lack of their understanding of the police role in the criminal justice system.  If police officers are not able to accept that at a personal level that they will not agree with some judicial decision then they are in the wrong line of work. Not only will it cause frustration, it may also lead to flawed decision making and differential treatment of members of the public.     

 It is especially troublesome when senior police executives don’t understand their role and make public comment critical of judicial decisions.  Police executives certainly have a role to play in this regard but it should not be one of offering criticism in a public forum.  They have access to politicians both on an individual basis and through advocacy organization such as associations of chiefs of police at both the provincial and federal level which afford the opportunity to air their concerns and make recommendations for change.      

This principle also makes it clear that individual wealth and social standing should not affect the level of service citizens receive from police.  Because these principles were written in the early 1800’s, race is not mentioned as British society at that time was not racially diverse.  In modern society the delivery of police services and race has become an issue and police service delivery must not only be blind in terms of wealth and social standing, it must also be color blind.  It is ironic that most police agencies as part of the screening process, test applicants for colour blindness.  Applicants who are colour blind (in terms of the primary colours) are screened out.  In a broader social sense, police agencies should in fact attempt to identify and hire recruits that are truly ‘colour blind’.          

The last aspect of this principle addresses the willingness to make individual sacrifices to protect and preserve life.  Police agencies have an obligation to create a safe workplace for police officers through training, policy, procedures and the use of technology and appropriate equipment.  It must be recognized that some aspects of police work are inherently dangerous.  This principle addresses the issue of officer safety from the perspective of ensuring that procedures not become so restrictive that the safety of citizens is negatively affected.  An example might be a restriction that does not allow an officer to go to the assistance of a citizen at risk unless accompanied by another officer.  A healthy balance must be struck between officer safety concerns and the safety of citizens.