Tuesday, September 01, 2020

Toronto police's body cams can be switched off

Toronto, perhaps belatedly, is in the process of rolling out body cameras for its police officers. Whatever you might think about that idea in principle, it's interesting to note some of the fine print involved, in particular the scenarios when it would be considered acceptable for an officer to turn off their body cam.
Toronto Deputy Police Chief Shawna Coxon explained to the press yesterday that police officers might turn off their body cams when dealing with minors, when dealing with a naked or exposed person, or, critically, when "people don't want to be filmed [in] a sensitive situation".
This all seems impossibly coy. If a situation requires a police officer's attention, however sensitive, then surely whoever has to review it, in the unlikely event that such a review is necessary, would also be authorized to view it (and be able to cope with it). It's not like this stuff is being streamed directly to YouTube. In fact, the presser also made clear that, in Canada, unlike in the US, body cam footage can not be released immediately, due to different privacy rules. The vast majority of it will just sit hidden on some anonymous server forever (or until its statute of limitations passes).
Theoretically, if a police officer is shown to have switched off their body cam unnecessarily, they can be fined (one day's worth of pay cut, i.e. not enough to make anyone think twice). But, to me, it kind of defeats the object of objectivity if they can be switched off at all.

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