Thousands sign petition calling for mandatory Toronto police usage of body cameras

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An online petition demanding Toronto police wear body cameras is gaining momentum in light of growing protests against police brutality and racism.

The petition calls on Toronto’s top cop to speed up the process of making body-worn cameras mandatory for all front-line officers in an effort to hold officers accountable while on the job.  The petition’s goal is 75,000 signatories. As of Wednesday afternoon, signatures totalled just under 57,000.

“It will help all of us to clear the air and make things straight because we’re living in a different world now, we’re living in a different society so things are changing so we have to live with the changes,” explains Reverend Delroy Sherman, a local community leader in Jamestown.

READ MORE: Regis Korchinski-Paquet’s death reinforces need for major mental health, policing reforms: advocates

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“It will help to clear things up better,” adds Sherman while pointing to the fact it could help those who are often marginalized.

“Video doesn’t lie.”

Toronto Police  (TPS) has been involved in a multi-year examination of body cameras, a year-long pilot project ended in 2016 which resulted in the recommendation TPS moved ahead with the cameras.

Last week, Chief Mark Saunders said he wants to see the deployment expedited amid the provincial investigation into the death of 29-year-old Regis Korchinski-Paquet.

“This is a textbook case as to why I have been advocating for body-worn cameras and I’m now fast-tracking to the best of my ability to allow that process to speed up,” Saunders told reporters Friday afternoon.

“All parties need a thorough investigation so we all have the answers to the truth.”

Lawyer reflects on incidents of anti-black racism, police brutality in Toronto
Lawyer reflects on incidents of anti-black racism, police brutality in Toronto

Experts say body cameras present facts that are hard to dispute but what they capture is limited to what is in front of the lens when turned on and turned off, it doesn’t necessarily paint a picture of what is happening around an officer.

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“That is often not everything that happened and it does leave open the argument ‘no, you do not get the whole context there’s a whole lot more to it’ and that may be true,” explains David Harris, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh.

READ MORE: Calls for RCMP body cameras grow after video of Nunavut officer driving into man

Harris writes and teaches about not just police behaviour and law enforcement but he also works in national security issues and is known as a consultant on body-worn cameras. He’s provided commentary to Canadian police forces looking to invest in the technology.

“There should be promises and undertakings before you get into this as to how much access the public is actually going to get as to whether these things are going to be a tool for accountability and transparency, because if that’s not assured the public is likely to feel let down as I think many American’s do,” adds Harris.

READ MORE: ‘Let’s walk’: Police in some U.S. states are joining George Floyd protesters

Body cameras have been supported by the Toronto Police Association, the union representing officers on the force.

“That’s why it was really important to have all of these policies … to make sure everyone’s rights are being respected. They would be used when we are responding to calls for people in crisis,” explains TPA President Mike McCormack.

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“We’ve already green-lighted everything and we’re just waiting for procurement.”

The petition is raising awareness about issues facing policing which some security experts hope leads to more informed conversations about policing in a democratic society.

“We just assume that it happens and the benefit of the protest and of the demonstrations is that we can finally have a more informed debate,” explains Christian Leuprecht an associate professor of political science and public policy at the Royal Canadian Military College of Canada and holds cross-appointments at Queen’s University.

READ MORE: Toronto police chief calls for expedited rollout of body-worn cameras after Regis Korchinski-Paquet’s death

“I think we need to have a broader conversation about how we optimise the resources that we invest in policing and really what we are seeing is a symptom of governments that have systematically divested or under-invested in social services,” Leuprecht adds.

“We need to have a much broader, more informed conversation.”

TPS is looking to procure the cameras and systems needed to store the media, a process that carries a price-tag of about $51-million over the first five years.

–With files from Nick Westoll

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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