A former RCMP commanding officer who served in Nunavut says he believes police officers should be using body cameras and only turning them on during encounters with the public to minimize the hurdle of data storage.
Vernon White, currently a Senator for Ontario, said it’s not practical for officers to leave body cameras running for full 12-hour shifts because that creates an excessive amount of file footage to archive.
“But that shouldn’t get in the way of good policy or good procedures… the fact that it’s too expensive is not something that should be weighed by the public or by you as a reporter as to whether or not it should happen. That’s (the RCMP’s) job to have that discussion,” he said. “At the end of the day, I absolutely agree with body-worn video. I think it’s a positive thing for officers. I think it’s positive for the public.”
The RCMP’s financial woes are well documented and that has led to the police force’s “huge vacancy rates” and salaries for Mounties trail many city police departments across the country, White said.
However, the expenses related to body cameras should be covered through the RCMP’s contract with the Government of Nunavut, White noted.
The territorial Department of Justice sent the following statement to Nunavut News:
“The department has been working with the RCMP V division to examine the feasibility of body-worn video (body cameras) in Nunavut. Implementing the use of body cameras in Nunavut will be a considerable project which will require operational, technical, and financial analysis. While we are unable to provide a timeline for this initiative, work is underway.”
On May 14, a spokesperson for RCMP headquarters in Ottawa said Commissioner Brenda Lucki would not provide an interview related to body cameras. Instead, an emailed statement was sent.
“The RCMP continually reviews its policies, procedures and equipment to ensure it is using the most effective practices in law enforcement. This includes researching and, on occasion, pilot testing new technology, if it is deemed to enhance public safety,” the statement reads, in part.
And then it refers to a December 2016 RCMP news release that deemed body camera technology as unable to meet “specific operational requirements.” An accompanying October 2013 news release – now six-and-a-half years old – cites limited battery life and limited camera durability as issues.
“The RCMP has worked closely with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner to ensure privacy considerations have been assessed in relation to the body-worn video pilot projects and consultations remain ongoing,” the RCMP’s May 20 statement reads.
White, who has studied body cameras in Australia as well, said most officers spend less than an hour per shift engaged with the public, so that would vastly reduce the amount of data required to be stored if the cameras are only turned on while interacting with civilians. It also doesn’t drain the battery.
On May 5, a man in Clyde River was shot and killed by a responding RCMP officer and on Feb. 26 a man died in Cape Dorset during an incident involving a Mountie.
White – who served in the North from 1984-2003, including a stint as Nunavut’s commanding officer from 2001-2003 – later went on to become chief with the Ottawa Police Service (OPS) and it was during his tenure that the agreement was signed to have OPS officers investigate RCMP actions in fatal incidents.
He said he would embrace the idea of a civilian oversight body assisting in investigations of RCMP conduct, something Justice Minister Jeannie Ehaloak said is under consideration during the winter sitting of the legislative assembly.
“If the suggestion is that they would have people added to that (investigative) team, I don’t see a negative side to that. I would support that… It’s helpful from a cultural perspective and a community connectivity perspective and a knowledge and historical perspective,” White said, adding that excluding an outside police force’s expertise entirely, on the other hand, would be “asking for trouble.”
The idea is not new in Nunavut, it just hasn’t been acted on. During a May 2017 meeting in Iqaluit following three RCMP-related deaths earlier that year, former mayor Mary Wilman expressed frustration over the lack of movement on civilian oversight of the RCMP.
“I live here. I’m born and raised here. For almost 20 years now we’ve talked about these things. It’s like a broken record to me,” Wilman said at the time. “It’s evident today that something is not working.”
In its emailed May 20 statement, RCMP headquarters stated the national police force “supports external review mechanisms.”
“The legislative changes and resource requirements to establish such regimes are beyond the control of the RCMP,” the statement reads.