The Barrie Police Service (BPS) has pulled body-worn cameras from the field to assess how they worked over the past four months.
As part of a body cam pilot project, twenty-five BPS officers spread across different departments were outfitted with cameras. The cameras were worn for about four months straight, and now the service is evaluating how effective they’ve been.
Staff-Sgt. Dave Goodbrand oversees the pilot project and says officers are already looking forward to getting their cameras back. “What we do know is that from preliminary discussions with these officers is that they all felt that it was a very valuable tool. They felt that they were treated differently. And better. They felt that it did calm people and create some stability,” said Goodbrand during Thursday’s virtual meeting of the Barrie Police Services Board. “The feedback coming from all of them to me is that they wouldn’t want to go without them now that they’ve had them.”
Goodbrand points out, while the cameras have been a boon for officers, they do add more paperwork after the fact. “The trade-off is, there is administrative work that comes along with it; there is redacting.” Goodbrand imagined a scenario involving a traffic stop wherein a child is visible on the body camera, saying the child’s face would have to be blurred before the footage could be shown in court.
Mayor Jeff Lehman, a member of the police services board, pointed out among the criticism of body cameras is that they are oversold as an evidentiary tool. “I recognize it was only in the last few months, but is it working well as a tool for evidence? Is it working in terms of assisting with investigations by providing more information to the investigating officers?”
Goodbrand said the pilot was too short to answer that definitively but pointed to anecdotal evidence in areas that have used body cams for some time. “The downside of a shorter pilot is that we don’t get to truly appreciate the evidence that’s been collected and how it’s going to result in court,” Goodbrand replied. “We do know that when you look at research around the world, that guilty pleas do an increase because there is actual evidence of the offense occurring.”
Goodbrand says more work needs to be done before the case can be made for a more permanent program within the BPS He pointed out they’re not even sure the final cost, as officers were testing out the cameras with all the bells and whistles. “we tested the Cadillac, we took the Cadillac for a test drive, so now we got to see if we can talk him into letting us buy the Cadillac. So that’s kind of where we’re at.”
The body cam pilot project came to an end just as allegations surfaced that a BPS officer was involved in a violent altercation with a young man accused of skateboarding through a red light in downtown Barrie. The incident, recorded by members of the public and widely shared on social media, is under investigation by the OPP.