It's good news that Toronto has joined other Canadian cities and started to put body cameras on police officers. A series of incidents, from the shooting of Michael Brown to the death of Robert Dziekanski, from police overreaction at the G20 in 2010 to the controversial practice of carding in Toronto, have damaged the public's trust in the police. If properly managed with clear policies, the cameras – Toronto is undertaking a one-year pilot project involving 100 officers – will help rebuild that trust.
Officers will start recording when they answer a call for service or begin investigating an individual. In Toronto, this includes carding, where officers gather personal information from people who aren't suspected of a crime. Given carding's inherent risk of causing hostility between police and innocent members of the public, the presence of a visible, mutually acknowledged recording device could reduce tensions.
The police have been trained to tell the person they are investigating that the camera is on, and to turn it off as soon as the interaction or call for service is over. They know they can't use the devices to record bystanders or people taking part in a public protest. And they know they can't record in a private home without first getting permission from the person who allows them to enter.
At the end of every shift, officers are supposed to upload their body camera's entire contents to a secure server owned and operated by the police service. Most police forces have long had dash-mounted cameras in police cruisers – and putting cameras on officers' lapels is merely a logical extension of the cameras in officers' cars. Those dash-mounted video recorders have had a huge impact on law enforcement, and on the courts. The evidence of what happened during a traffic stop, and what did not happen, is right there. False allegations, whether by police or civilians, are far less likely to be made, let alone believed.
The Toronto police have taken a positive step forward by embracing a technology that has in other jurisdictions has already reduced both complaints against police and use of force by them. But cameras, however useful, are not the only way to promote better policing. We'll have more on this, later this week.