Despite widespread agreement about the benefits of police-car dashboard cameras and nearly $2-million in provincial funding for the equipment, the use of them in B.C. remains a patchwork of different policies and practices.
On Wednesday, a coroner’s inquest into the police shooting of Adam Purdie recommended all RCMP cruisers have dashboard cameras installed. Despite at least four police cars at the scene when the shooting happened on March 2, 2011, the only video available of the incident was filmed on a personal camcorder installed on an officer’s dashboard.
RCMP Constable Peter Neily, who fired 30 rounds at Mr. Purdie that night, was cleared of criminal responsibility in Mr. Purdie’s death after an investigation by the Saanich Police Department. Detective Sergeant Chris Horsley, who led the Saanich investigation, told the inquest that investigators were very fortunate to have the video because it allowed them to match up police radio traffic with events happening on the ground.
The use of dashboard cameras in B.C. police cars has increased dramatically in recent years. In 2009, the Solicitor General’s office provided $1.8-million in funding for the equipment. The funds allowed the purchase of 260 new cameras for RCMP traffic units and 60 for municipal police cars, bringing the total number of in-car police cameras in B.C. to about 460.
But the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner, which investigates complaints involving municipal police in B.C. – but not those involving RCMP – has rarely been able to make use of in-car video evidence.
“I can’t think of any cases that we’ve been involved in where video evidence came from a municipal police car,” said Rollie Woods, the deputy police complaint commissioner. He could only recall cases where the incident was caught on a camera in an RCMP cruiser on location.
“A video, no matter where it originated from, can be very helpful in finding the truth of the matter,” Mr. Woods said. “I know in other provinces where they’re more widespread and they’ve been used to gather information on an incident, they’ve been very helpful. In B.C., obviously, cost must be a factor.”
Most Vancouver Police Department cars don’t have cameras installed, Constable Brian Montague said in an e-mailed statement, adding that the matter has come up for discussion in the past. “We have run trials and pilot projects with various cameras in our patrol and traffic cars. I believe those cameras are still in place in a small number of our vehicles,” Constable Montague wrote.
In 2009, the Victoria Police Department conducted a pilot project that involved officers wearing cameras on their bodies. Constable Mike Russell, who was on the bike-patrol unit during the project and wore a camera on his helmet, said the officers found it a positive experience.
“We had zero complaints from any person who was wearing body video,” he said. “If you can save one investigation with the complaints office, certainly, it’s a good investment.”
But Constable Russell said his police force found there were too many logistical difficulties with implementing the project, particularly around data storage and preparing the evidence for court. As of today, he said there are no cameras used in Victoria police cars or on uniforms.
The West Vancouver Police Department, however, said they made use of the provincial funding and have had eight dashboard cameras in operation since 2009.
Sergeant Rob Vermeulen, spokesperson for the RCMP “E” Division, said in a written statement that the RCMP takes the inquest’s recommendations “very seriously,” but will have to take time to review the financial and legal implications.