Police board approves body-worn cameras as they consider dozens of reforms to tackle systemic racism
The outside of Toronto Police Headquarters downtown is seen. (CTV News Toronto)
Chris Fox, CP24.com
Published Tuesday, August 18, 2020 9:52AM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, August 18, 2020 5:22PM EDT
The Toronto Police Services Board has given the nod to go ahead with a plan that will see Toronto police officers outfitted with body-worn cameras in an effort to increase transparency and accountability.
The plan will see the force purchase 2,350 body-worn cameras from Axon at a cost of $34.1 million over five years.
Body-worn cameras were one of the ideas floated earlier this year in response to calls to drastically reform, defund, or even abolish police services.
In a statement, Interim Chief James Ramer said the cameras will be used “to create trust and legitimacy between officers and the public as we continue to modernize policing services.”
Toronto police said in a statement that frontline officers will start to use the cameras in the northwest part of the city by the end of August.
Most of the cost for the program is for cloud-based storage space to keep the hundreds of hours of video that will be generated by the cameras each day. Some 3,000 licences for data management, situational awareness and sharing tools are also part of the deal.
Video from cruiser dashcams, cameras in interview rooms, and other sources of video evidence will also be stored as part of the deal.
Other recommendations approved
The board also gave the nod to dozens of recommendations aimed at tackling systematic anti-Black racism within the force, including several that would allow for a more fulsome debate over a billion-dollar budget that has come under increased scrutiny.
Many of the 81 recommendations considered by the board today already received the support of city council at a meeting in June while others were crafted based on the input of the hundreds of residents who participated in a series of virtual town halls last month.
Some of the recommendations pertain to the development of an alternative community safety model, which would see police no longer respond to some non-criminal calls for people in crisis. Other recommendations, meanwhile, call for a major expansion of mobile crisis intervention teams so that the service can be provided 24 hours a day, seven days a week across all policing divisions.
The recommendations also call for a review of the current use of force model and an expansion of instances in which officers can be suspended without pay.
There are also a number of recommendations that directly address the police services budget amid recent calls to “defund the police.”
One of those recommendations calls on the province to amend the City of Toronto Act so that the city’s auditor general can review its finances. There is also another recommendation calling on the service to immediately begin publicly posting a line-by-line summary of its budget. That recommendation was acted on by the service on Tuesday morning when they retroactively posted that information for their last five budgets.
Speaking with reporters on Monday afternoon, Mayor John Tory said he believes that the recommendations before the board represent “unprecedented” and “significant steps” when it comes to the “transparency of the budget.”
He said that the recommendations also pave the way for the eventual reallocation of some responsibilities "from police to perhaps people better suited to handle mental health” calls.
Some people, however, have said that recommendations don’t go far enough to address systematic racism.
During Tuesday’s meeting, the interim chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Right Commission Ena Chadha told board members that the report is “flawed” as it lacks the sort of “specific and measurable” benchmarks needed to create real change.
She said that the report fails to “to include key accountability mechanisms for investigating and disciplining police officers” and also “fails to institute an early intervention warning system based on race data to alert when officers or units disproportionately target racial groups.”
“So called actions without accountability and enforceability are not useful,” she said.
In a report accompanying the recommendations, TPS Board Chair Jim Hart says that “systematic racism occurs within policing, as it does in many other public and private systems.”
He said that the report before the board “is a beginning; one that proposes immediate action and a commitment to change through ongoing consultation and a reimagining of our current approach to public safety.”
“We acknowledge that the status quo is not adequate. We recognize that much work remains to be done and that it must be done in partnership with others, including our city's diverse communities,” he writes.
- with files from The Canadian Press