It’s time for Montreal to outfit police with body cameras, opposition says

Montreal’s official opposition party is putting pressure on the Plante administration to equip the city’s police force with body cameras.

“We must increase the transparency of police work, and above all, have a perception of trust so that I, as a citizen, can have some communication — a relationship — with a police officer,” said Coun. Abdelhaq Sari during a news conference Tuesday.

The Montréal-Nord councillor is Ensemble Montréal’s public security critic. His party is presenting a motion on Feb. 24, calling on Montreal to provide officers with wearable cameras designed to record interactions with the public.

However, after a year-long trial by 78 officers that ended in January 2019, the SPVM concluded body cameras have little impact on interventions, present logistical challenges — and leave most officers who have to wear them feeling as if they’re under surveillance.

The department backed up its claims with a 215-page report that concluded the project “did not unequivocally demonstrate that portable cameras promote the transparency of police interventions, strengthen trust between the police and the citizen and ensure the safety of police.”

According to a 2019 report by the Montreal police department, 78 officers wore body cameras for a year, and 89 per cent of them felt they were being monitored. (Submitted by Montreal police)

But, with several Canadian cities and other municipalities around the world already using them, Sari said the SPVM is the only police force claiming body cameras don’t increase transparency or the perception of trust.

“It has been proven in several cities that they increase these two factors,” he said.

The opposition says the department exaggerated the estimated cost of outfitting its force with cameras.

The $17.4-million price tag estimated by the SPVM includes the cost of the cameras for all officers, as well as training costs, modifications to uniforms and the cost of managing the project, police said last year.

Further to that, the report concluded, deploying the cameras would create additional labour costs that would hover around $20 million a year, to hire 200 additional officers because of the time it takes to process all the information collected on video.

Norris says city still open to technology

A leading manufacturer of body cameras has disputed the SPVM’s cost estimates.

U.S.-based Axon, the company that provided the SPVM with body cameras for the pilot project, has said it could cost as little as $6.5 million to outfit all officers with cameras and provide the department with all the needed storage and software.

Mayor Valérie Plante decided not to provide Montreal police officers with body cameras last February, saying the devices would be too costly for the city.

But last month, Coun. Alex Norris, chair of the public security committee, said the city has not closed the door on body cameras. In fact, he said Montreal remains “very interested in the potential” of the cameras as a means to better supervise police work.

“We remain open to deploy this technology once we have established that the results will be there,” he said. “We follow the evolution of technology very closely.”


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