This year, thousands of RCMP officers will begin their shifts by putting on body-worn cameras that will capture their interactions with the community.
Racialized and Indigenous communities across Canada have, in recent years, called on the RCMP to put cameras on police officers. In 2020, the national police force decided to initiate a Body Worn Camera (BWC) program.
The more tools you have to tell the story of what happened the better," says Insp. Shirley Davermann, who is involved in developing the training required for officers to operate the cameras. "
It provides clarification to the diverse perceptions following an incident."
Once the winning vendor is chosen to supply the RCMP with the BWCs, field tests will then be held in selected rural, urban, and remote communities before the operational rollout begins, planned for later in 2022.
The RCMP plans to equip approximately 10,000 of its front-line officers with the BWCs. The exact details are still being worked out.
That information, such as how and when cameras will be turned on and off, and how long footage will be stored, is outlined in the BWC policy, which is being reviewed and amended following recommendations from various stakeholders.
Davermann, an RCMP veteran who began her career in British Columbia in 1997, says sorting out the aftermath of controversial police-public interactions can be stressful for everyone.
It becomes one person's word against another's, but footage and or the audio can provide a clearer account of what happened," she says.
Laying the groundwork
Taunya Goguen leads a very busy team in RCMP stakeholder engagement.
It meets regularly with a network of RCMP employees and managers in each province and territory to figure out how the cameras will be used, and how much using the devices will add to their workload.
Meetings have also been held with provincial and municipal governments who want to know about long-term costs, and with a wide variety of stakeholders who are interested in issues such as how cameras will improve public safety and privacy rights.
As we wait for a vendor to be selected, we're talking to people to validate and challenge our assumptions and find ways to move forward," says Goguen. "
We are learning from the experience of other police forces and we are listening to stakeholder concerns. It is a slow process but we want to get this right."
Information from the consultations and a BWC pilot project in 2021 in Nunavut have informed a draft policy that has been circulated through the RCMP and other interested government agencies. Those include the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP, the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner.
Shaping the cloud's storage for police
The RCMP requirements for the BWCs have also been refined as staff has learned more about the cameras, their capabilities and what is needed to manage and store all of the digital images, videos and audio officers will produce, says Steve McGirr, the RCMP's Project Manager for the BWC program.
The introduction of a cloud-based Digital Evidence Management System (DEMs) to store camera footage is also a significant part of the initiative.
Specifying the camera is probably the easier part of what we have to do," says McGirr. "
What makes it useful is the capabilities of its Digital Evidence Management system."
He adds that the DEMs must be easy to use for officers who will be uploading images and for investigators who will need to access that evidence. There's also the issue of how that's achieved for police officers who work in rural and remote areas where Internet access might not be reliable.
To help close this gap, the RCMP is working closely with Shared Services Canada to upgrade network connections. McGirr says the RCMP is ultimately seeking a "
fully-managed contract solution" for the BWC-DEMS service.
Axon Public Safety Canada Inc., Getac Video Solutions Ltd., and Motorola Solutions Canada Inc. are competing for the contract.
The contractor will own the BWCs and provide access to their DEMs," he says. "
This will simplify operations for the RCMP as the contractor will be responsible to update equipment and for system operation."