Time to Equip Police with Vest-Mounted Cameras

It is time for frontline police officers to wear vest-mounted cameras to increase public confidence and protect themselves when they are properly doing their duties.

By Joey Coleman
Published August 23, 2013

The Steve Mesic police shooting is a topic of conversation for many as we struggle to comprehend how and why this tragic event happened in our community, absent of any of that information.

Mesic was shot and killed by Hamilton Police on June 7, 2013. The SIU is investigating.

The Hamilton Spectator's Bill Dunphy and Susan Clairmont are providing comprehensive coverage of this story, providing insightful information about what we can learn of what happened and the process of the investigation, and making sure the story is not forgotten.

They have also filed Freedom of Information requests for police policies in situations with emotionally disturbed persons.

A Wait for Answers

Comparisons are being drawn to the Sammy Yatim shooting in Toronto, in which Toronto Police Constable James Forcillo was charged with second-degree murder. Yatim was fatally shoot on July 27 and the SIU laid charges against Cst. Forcillo on August 19.

I expect and hope that public pressure had no bearing upon the decision of the SIU in this case. To be fair, our justice system must be blind to public-opinion (but our elected representatives who make the laws should not be).

For all the flaws with the SIU, we cannot have investigative outcomes swayed by public opinion. That said, reform of the SIU, including creating transparency, is a file the Legislature needs to work at immediately.

No Independent Witnesses

The key difference between the two cases is the Yatim shooting had dozens of witnesses and video recordings, whereas there are no independent witnesses and no video for the Mesic shooting.

Forensics will be key to the SIU investigation in Hamilton. Forensic testings and analysis takes time. During this process, the SIU remains publicly silent and we, the public, are left with no knowledge of what happened.

There are only three people who know what happened on June 7, 2013: the two subject officers, and Mr. Mesic, who is dead.

Until we have forensic evidence and the Coroner's autopsy report, we cannot make any conclusions, and must endure the frustrating wait for answers.

Time for Vest-Mounted Video Cameras

It is time for frontline police officers to wear vest-mounted cameras to increase public confidence and protect themselves when they are properly doing their duties.

Public confidence in policing has decreased since the events of the G20. Add in a mix of videos of the bad apples within policing, and the good officers on the street get painted with a coat of distrust by those who rightfully question the character of the person behind the badge.

Video isn't a "gotcha" device, it's a passive, non-biased observer.

Last June, Hamilton Police arrested a person dealing "fake cocaine" downtown. The man alleged police brutality, but a video distributed on YouTube (now deleted) made it clear that no wrongdoing occurred and the officer used appropriate force. Without the video, the complainant could not be proven to be making a false accusation.

Video works the other way as well, as we've seen many times.

In California, misconduct complaints at the Rialto Police Department (pop. 93,284) decreased 88 percent year-over-year after the introduction of cameras worn by half of the city's uniform patrol - this includes among officers without cameras.

During the same time, the use of force by officers went down 60 percent.

Danger Happens Where Good Citizens are Absent

The most dangerous situations police encounter, when their lives are endangered, will often occur away from citizen cameras or non-police witnesses. Vest-mounted cameras will ensure that there are no doubts about the actions of the police service.

It's time for the Hamilton Police Service to reverse the erosion of public confidence caused by lingering doubts about the SIU and inconclusive evidence released to the public.

A badge and a camera - that's what we should see on every police uniform.

First published on Joey Coleman's website.

Joey Coleman covers Hamilton Civic Affairs.

Read more of his work at The Public Record, or follow him on Twitter @JoeyColeman.


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By wcj (anonymous) | Posted August 23, 2013 at 22:53:10


Great idea. I hope it gains traction.


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By JoeyColeman (registered) - website | Posted August 23, 2013 at 23:45:59

Thank you.

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By CaptainKirk (anonymous) | Posted August 23, 2013 at 23:57:49

I've got a lot of repsect for Joey Coleman's work, and opinions, but I gotta say I don't like this idea.

I also have a lot of respect for the very tough work police officers do, and I believe this would be detrimental to the job they do, and perhaps even their safety because it could very easily lead to some second guessing at the expense of bothe them and the public.

If there is an erosion of public confidence then I think what should be fixed is the process by whcih investigations are conducted.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted August 26, 2013 at 12:33:38 in reply to Comment 91314

According to this article many officers prefer to have the camera, because it means that they don't have to second guess themselves - they can take appropriate action without having to worry about being wrongly accused of misuse of power.

If there is ever a situation where the presence of a camera causes an officer to second guess their use of violence, its my feeling that they should probably not be using violence in that situation. Changing the process of investigation will not help if there is no change in the availability of hard evidence to back up an officer's explanation of their actions.

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By redmike (registered) | Posted August 25, 2013 at 23:07:18 in reply to Comment 91314

like the law and order folks say: "if you dont have anything to hide you wont mind being taped/video'd/hacked"

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By JoeyColeman (registered) - website | Posted August 24, 2013 at 01:54:58 in reply to Comment 91314

I don't know if we can change how the investigations are conducted. We can improve communications by having the SIU provide more details about their investigative plans and work.

The challenge is that sometimes, the forensic evidence can be inconclusive and all that is available are the statements of witness officers.

This means an officer can be left with questions swirling about their actions, even if they were fully justified in using lethal force.

The camera can help prevent, or at the least significantly decrease, an inconclusive determination.

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By JoeyColeman (registered) - website | Posted August 24, 2013 at 01:48:37 in reply to Comment 91314

The article linked to above notes that complaints against police are down significantly in Rialto. (I cannot conclusively say this means those complaints there were not filed were frivilous.)

A complaint process can be very tiring on the involved officers, especially when there is a lack of conclusive evidence.

I found the drop in use-of-force to be very interesting because it indicates that situations are not escaluating to the level which use-of-force is necessary. (Not to excluse the possibility that some officers are not using force at the same level of situation as prior)

If the cameras mean a suspect decides to "give up" more quickly, there is another benefit for officers.

My work covering our city gives me the privilege of getting to know many of our frontline officers. They have a very difficult role in our society and handle tough situations all-day.

My concerns with the camera is the length of time the recording is kept. I like to see a device with limited memory which overrides data at 4-to-6 hours unless stopped and downloaded.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted August 26, 2013 at 15:27:55 in reply to Comment 91316

I disagree about the time-limit. If the officers have to actually do something to make the video files available for use by their superiors or any investigation, there is always the potential for files to be deleted or not transferred. It has to be seamlessly designed so that any instance where a video cannot be recovered is well outside of the protocol.

One big concern with cameras is when do you record? For example, if I were an officer I would want the camera any time I interacted with the public, so that I could prove my conduct if it were ever questioned (e.g. no civilian could accuse me of being belligerent when I ticketed them if there was video evidence to the contrary). However, I would not want every single thing I said on the job recorded, because even small talk between co-workers could put officers in compromising positions (e.g. what if you make fun of your boss to a coworker and they see the video).

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By Keith (anonymous) | Posted August 25, 2013 at 00:19:11 in reply to Comment 91316

Hopefully it follows the standards for transit vehicle cameras- 48 hours then deleted- and stipulates exactly who can review the data. It gives enough time for a citizen complaint or police investigation to trigger that the data be pulled for further review, but respects the privacy of both working officers and members of the public they deal/interact with and pass on the streets.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted August 26, 2013 at 10:16:27 in reply to Comment 91347

I think it's problematic to only keep the recording for 48 hours given that the video might be required in a wide variety of situations (claims of an illegal search/seizure, claims of police brutaility, etc. and not all of these issues will be even considered let alone resolved within 48 hours.

Maybe you can delete the rest of their walking around and day to day interaction, but when it results in an arrest, I think everything from start to finish should probably be retained until it's clear that it's not necessary.

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By JoeyColeman (registered) - website | Posted August 26, 2013 at 10:32:44 in reply to Comment 91383

Robert D,

You make a very good point. I'm in agreement.

My concern, and wish for a short retention period is primarily for civil liberties.

My timeline, in light of your point, is significantly too short for arrests and other actions.

The day-to-day / walking around should be kept no longer than 48 hours.

Thank you for joining the discussion.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted August 26, 2013 at 14:16:44 in reply to Comment 91386

Agreed, particularly since data storage space would also quickly become a concern if everything was being kept.

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By TB (registered) - website | Posted August 24, 2013 at 09:05:08 in reply to Comment 91316

Cameras should be mandatory and automatically stream to the cloud.

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By ScreamingViking (registered) | Posted August 24, 2013 at 01:17:55

There are always at least three versions to a story: what one side recalls, what the other remembers, and what really happened.

If this helps us get closer to that latter version in situations that are unclear, then it's a worthwhile investment and will protect both the public and the police.

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By rednic (registered) | Posted August 24, 2013 at 08:40:40

'Danger Happens Where Good Citizens are Absent' There were plenty of 'good' citizens present for the murder of Sammi Yatim. ~20 witness officers + numerous civilians present (1 who managed to ride her bike between Forcillo and the streetcar).

Even if Sammi hadn't been shot that video will be used as an example of how NOT to run police operation for decades to come.

Cameras or not, if a random sampling of 20 police officers doesn't show 1 good citizen, there are far larger problems.

How about this for a rule change. Upon designation subject officers must be tested for steroid use.

The results would shock most people.

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By keiff0rz (registered) | Posted August 26, 2013 at 14:04:11 in reply to Comment 91326

"How about this for a rule change. Upon designation subject officers must be tested for steroid use."

Give your head a shake. What is your basis for this outlandish claim??

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By rednic (registered) | Posted August 30, 2013 at 08:58:16 in reply to Comment 91397

I'm not the only who thinks such things .......

The there is also this story to contemplate

Besides which, if no officers are using steroids why would it be an issue to test them after they KILL some one ?

Give your head a shake keiffOrz .,.. The days when the public will line up behind police in their support are DONE, and the only people to blame are the Police themselves.....

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By JoeyColeman (registered) - website | Posted August 24, 2013 at 08:55:02 in reply to Comment 91326

This case involved many witnesses.

There are other cases, the most recent shootings in Hamilton being examples, where there are not civilian observers or only the subject officers.

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By z jones (registered) | Posted August 24, 2013 at 10:00:56

This will help us get across the Thin Blue Line to the truth. How many SIU investigations and charges get thrown out because none of the officers, who's job it is to see and remember what happened, didn't see anything and don't remember what happened. Didn't a judge just blast Hamilton police over their coverup of a case of police brutality? Good cops should be asking for cameras to prove their innocence when things go wrong. Bad cops prefer when there are no credible witnesses.

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By Hamilton Resident (anonymous) | Posted August 25, 2013 at 17:15:44

This is a dumb idea. Have you factored cops having to make snap decisions of going in-camera to deal with covert operations?

Human accountability is the problem here. And that needs to be fixed, and not layered by more technology fixes.

What next? Should all journalists and field reporters be strutting around with cameras strapped to their foreheads or chests? NYT's infamous journalism was a preamble to a country being bombed without cause. Many journalists spin and lie on a daily basis, while the lazy public cheer them on, a fact verified by scores of media oversight groups worldwide. So will strapping camera's to all journalist be the next leap in human ingenuity?

How long are we going to stick our heads in the sand? Let us find ways to fix the broken human mind and not find ways to amuse ourselves with more reality TV. It is the disingenuous human mind that is destroying other humans and also our planet.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted August 26, 2013 at 12:39:16 in reply to Comment 91362

Let us find ways to fix the broken human mind and not find ways to amuse ourselves with more reality TV.

Does anyone have a solution to this problem? I'd say lets not hold our breath.

...going in-camera to deal with covert operations?

It's not the military. Why do cops need to perform 'covert operations'?

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted August 26, 2013 at 10:19:14 in reply to Comment 91362

I don't think anyone suggested that this is a perfect fix, or that this is all that needs to be done, only that this is something that is being done in other places, and it seems to be having a positive effect.

Your diatribe on journalists appears irrelevant to the proposal.

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By Mark-AlanWhittle (registered) - website | Posted August 25, 2013 at 18:50:03

I wonder why the S.I.U. is taking so long to investigate our Police shooting?

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By jorvay (registered) | Posted August 26, 2013 at 10:51:31

Techdirt had a really good discussion on this in an article two weeks ago.

Essentially: everybody wins but there may be privacy issues when recording inside a private space without a warrant.

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By JoeyColeman (registered) - website | Posted August 26, 2013 at 10:58:16 in reply to Comment 91387

Thank you for sharing

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted August 26, 2013 at 12:43:01 in reply to Comment 91388

The Verge also did a feature on this issue, and had similar findings - even to the point that officers didn't want to go on patrol without a camera, because it meant taking a risk of not being able to defend themselves against false accusations.

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By keiff0rz (registered) | Posted August 26, 2013 at 14:10:59

I can't see the Hamilton Police getting cameras any time soon since every budget request gets denied by City Council.

More equipment to carry and be accountable for doesn't benefit the officer. They get in trouble if it breaks, they get in trouble if they forget to turn it on, they get in trouble if they don't download it accordingly.

All SIU investigations take time just as all criminal proceedings take time. Instead of instantly screaming that the police are doing something wrong, why not consider that a great deal of time and effort goes into training so the majority of Police are doing things RIGHT.

I'm sure there are bad apples who abuse their power but these people get rooted out and identified in due course.

Believe it or not there are good Police officers out there; doing a hard job that is scrutinized by everyone as it is. Why don't we have faith in these officers to do the job they were hired to do without putting them under any more undue stress on the job.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted August 26, 2013 at 15:42:16 in reply to Comment 91398

What if citizens demand it of their councilors? I would think that would change the perspective of council on a budget request.

I would also point out that cameras would actually make things easier for the vast majority of officers who do things right, because it gives them an easy way to defend their actions in the face of unfounded accusations. Its not just about not trusting officers - its about transparency, and we have the right to expect that given how much power we entrust to a law enforcement officer.

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