Regina Leader-Post

Police wearing body cameras not a simple fix

Effective guidelines are needed,

- Shayla Batty writes.

The tragic death of George Floyd, as well as the recent passing of Chantel Moore, has left Canada considerin­g the use of body-worn cameras (BWCS) in police department­s across the country to increase officer accountabi­lity and transparen­cy.

BWCS are perceived as a solution to issues such as police brutality and excessive use of force, and as an aid in improving police-community relations and encounters. However, despite some research reinforcin­g these hypotheses, there is also plenty of research suggesting that BWCS fail to deliver these promises.

Scholars and various pilot projects in Canadian police department­s saw no significan­t change in police use of force, police profession­alism, views of police legitimacy, or satisfacti­on with police-citizen encounters when officers were equipped with BWCS.

The problem here is that not all camera systems are created equally, nor are the guidelines for their use the same across all department­s. Some cameras have a short battery life, some require manual operation, others need very expensive storage, and sometimes videos are not made available to the public.

Research on police BWCS suggests that this technology is not guaranteed to improve much of what we wish it would, but it can.

Given this, we are faced with a rather daunting question: what can police department­s do to ensure that BWCS are effective, beneficial, and safe for both citizens and officers?


Police department­s typically offer some level of officer discretion in the activation and deactivati­on of their BWC. Officer discretion and the ability to turn off the cameras is important for two reasons.

Firstly, due to the high cost of footage storage, it’s not feasible for these cameras to run continuous­ly.

Secondly, cameras should be turned off to avoid privacy violations such as the recording of innocent bystanders and filming of sensitive population­s (imagine victims of rape and abuse being recorded without consent), as this can have negative effects on police-community relations. These privacy concerns also extend to officers, as the recording of coworkers simply shooting the breeze may cause tension within department­s.

However, an officer’s ability to turn off a BWC at their discretion without proper guidelines cannot reduce poor policing or increase accountabi­lity, as police can pause the recording to commit abuses without the risk of being filmed. Placing the control of deactivati­on with police officers creates a situation where the organizati­on meant to be held accountabl­e holds the power to prevent recordings from occurring or being shared after the incident.

Failure to record may be the result of accident, stress, or deliberate misconduct, while an affirmativ­e decision to film may be to humiliate or evade the privacy of sensitive subjects in intimate situations.


Public disclosure of footage containing incidents of misconduct or brutality would be a step toward increasing police transparen­cy and accountabi­lity. However, releasing BWC footage to the public or news media can be problemati­c when it contains images and audio of innocent bystanders, sensitive crime victims, or is taken within a person’s home.

The misuse of public disclosure allows for not only privacy threats, but can seriously affect the lives of those who exhibit problemati­c behaviour. For example, dash cam footage on police cruisers has been circulated online, particular­ity of intoxicate­d and troubled individual­s, for no other reason than to demoralize them.

These privacy risks are significan­t, even if they do not occur often, as even the possibilit­y of retaliatio­n may produce an ongoing fear for those recorded.


Evidence suggests that the developmen­t and implementa­tion of proper BWC policies within a department is a necessary preconditi­on for achieving the benefits that this technology can provide.

Guidelines for the use of BWCS must be carefully considered and developed, while keeping these two issues in mind, as they affect the safety and privacy of both officers and citizens, as well as the accountabi­lity and transparen­cy of police that we desire.

Shayla Batty is a research assistant at the University of Saskatchew­an.

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