Police body cams an effective evidence gathering tool

Oct 1, 2014 By Matthew Friedberg
Toronto criminal lawyer Matthew Friedberg says it makes sense for police to wear body cameras because it will allow for more transparency and accountability in officers’ conduct and will also provide reliable evidence in court.

“I think it’s a good thing – it’s a very good evidence-gathering tool to be able to videotape what the officer is seeing and what he or she is experiencing, a really good way to capture what’s going on,” he tells AdvocateDaily.com.

Friedberg says the cameras will curtail peoples’ ability to challenge the police version of events, likely resulting in fewer trials and actions against police.

“It will really promote the truth-seeking function of the courts,” he says.

Friedberg weighs in on the matter as Toronto Police launch a pilot project this fall that will see about 100 officers wear small cameras as the force moves to study the device’s effectiveness in reducing the use of force, says the CBC.

The decision comes after 18-year-old Sammy Yatim was shot and Tasered by Toronto police on a streetcar last year. Const. James Forcillo is charged with second-degree murder in connection with the shooting, says the public broadcaster.

Numerous passersby took video of what happened and posted them online, stirring public outrage about the man’s death, reports CBC.

A report that followed the shooting recommended that police be equipped with body-worn cameras, says the article.

Friedberg says that though the benefits outweigh the downside to police being equipped with body cams, their use does raise some issues.
First of all, some people may be more reticent to walk up to a police officer, he says. "It  may deter people from reporting crimes and may also raise some privacy concerns, depending on when, where and how the cameras are activated.”

Friedberg says that while the body cameras will unquestionably make police more accountable, the devices may also make them more tepid to investigate some street crime that they might otherwise target.

A consequence here, says the lawyer, may be that it will restrict police conduct in what he calls traditional "street policing" because it may limit (through documentation) their ability to stop and investigate people on the street without full and proper legal grounds - and this will result in fewer charges being laid, he says.

"Sometimes the police have stopped and investigated people based on hunches or gut instincts without requisite grounds,” he says. “Fewer people may be charged because an officer knows that if he approaches someone on-camera he will have to think twice before he acts on his hunch. These cameras may alter the way police do their work and change street-level policing.”

Determining the true value of police body cams, says Friedberg, depends on where one falls on the law and order spectrum.

“If you’re a law and order person and you want every criminal investigated, taken off the street and charged, this may be troublesome; if you’re a civil libertarian, this is a wonderful thing," he says.