Body cameras are a 'distraction' to real police accountability, criminologist says
TORONTO -- The federal government’s push to equip some members of the RCMP with body cameras is being “overblown” as a solution to fight racism within police forces, a Canadian criminologist says, and instead he wants to see deeper reform to hold officers accountable.
“There needs to be broad consultation and review on what needs to be done. Political rhetoric and gizmos like cameras are not the answer,” Kelly Sundberg, a criminologist with Mount Royal University, told CTV News Channel on Tuesday.
RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki agreed Monday to outfit some Mounties with body cameras following a conversation with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Advocates pushing against systemic anti-Black racism in policing say the measure doesn’t go far enough.
On Tuesday, Trudeau said body cameras were just "one measure amongst many" that his government was considering, but he did not specify what those other measures were.
Body cameras have been successful in some cities, Sundberg said, where they can help increase transparency between police and the community.
"All in all though, I really think this move for cameras is not a magic wand. It’s one small step, and very limited step, in addressing police oversight,” he said.
“Frankly I see that this discussion around body-worn cameras being deployed as very much a distraction to the real issue of accountability and addressing what needs to be done, and that’s addressing taking evidence-based police approaches to reforming policing in our country.”
Some of those solutions could include a deeper look at how police officers are hired and trained, reassessing the organizations that investigate Canadian police forces when they’re accused of wrongdoing and increasing transparency when it comes to complaints made against officers.
“In my view, the civilian review and complaints commission for the RCMP needs some significant reform. It’s seen an uptick in issues in the last little while. Complaints against RCMP officers have been on the rise. The majority of complaints and outcomes are never revealed,” Sundberg said.
Finances are another major concern, Sundberg said, because body cameras require plenty of tech support in order to be used properly.
“There’s a huge cost,” Sundberg said. "There’s a need for a lot of backroom support, technical support, vetting this. They are expensive. For the RCMP to use them across all their detachments -- there are two-officer, four-officer detachments. I don’t know the logistics around that.”
Research on body cameras is far from conclusive. A review of 70 body camera studies published last year by George Mason University’s Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy found mixed evidence that the technology reduced officer’s use of force.
Some groups have called for government to “defund the police” and for that money to be reallocated to other specially-trained responders, such as mental health crisis workers. For 2017-2018, operating budgets for policing in Canada reached $15.1 billion.
The calls for reform have been growing since the death of George Floyd, the Black man who was killed after a white police officer shoved his knee into his neck.
In Canada, the relationship between racialized communities and police has been under the microscope. The Indigenous community is demanding an independent investigation into the death of Chantel Moore, then 26-year-old woman who was shot and killed by a police officer performing a “wellness check.” Police say Moore threatened the officer with a knife.
In Alberta, a First Nations chief said he was beaten by RCMP officers who apprehended him over an expired vehicle licence plate tag earlier this year.
And rallies across the country were held after the death of 29-year-old Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a Toronto woman who fell from her apartment balcony while police were present.
Sundberg said he wants to see criminology departments and groups that study evidence-based policing engaged on Canada’s next steps forward. Introducing body cameras for some RCMP officers simply isn’t enough, he said.
“It’s really quite disheartening that we’re being pedalled gizmos and other means to somehow appease us that the government is doing something. If they were, they would be talking to a much broader group and say, ‘What can we really do?’”
With files from CTVNews.ca's Rachel Gilmore and Jonathan Forani