On June 27, police in the city of Akron, Ohio, shot and killed a 25-year-old black boy named Jayland Walker during a traffic stop.
Despite police orders to get out of his vehicle with his hands up, Walker refuses to do so and is riddled with bullets, possibly as many as 60 projectiles, as he attempts to escape. A weapon was found in the vehicle.
Where is all this information coming from? From video released by Akron Police Department, captured by officers’ handheld cameras.
In the United States, as of 2016, approximately 60% of municipal and local police forces had handheld cameras. Several cities around the world, notably New York and London, have equipped their police officers with these cameras. In Canada, this technology is much less established.
As of 2009, some pilot projects have been implemented, notably in Montreal and in certain RCMs. However, only the cities of Calgary and Toronto implement it throughout their territory.
However, several studies into citizen perceptions show that more than 80% of Canadians support wearing handheld cameras. They see it as a tool that can promote transparency and accountability. The police also agree with this idea, since the cameras can shed light on events beyond the sensationalism of social networks.
Canadian and American studies on the impact of handheld cameras on policing, relationships with citizens, and judicial processes are mixed. Some report that the cameras could help increase professionalism and restraint in the use of force, and even reduce ethics and court processing times.
Others report no significant changes in the behavior of police officers and instead observe negative effects, in particular greater difficulties in reaching out to citizens.
The debate remains, but one fact remains: there is little Canadian research. We cannot therefore dismiss this technology outright as we lack the data to educate us about its impact.
A national vision
In the face of scientific delays, let’s trust the citizens.
The mere presence of cameras seems to positively influence their perception of the police, particularly in terms of transparency and accountability. Knowing that the effectiveness and legitimacy of policing depends on public perception, shouldn’t we follow Toronto’s example?
It’s true that installing cameras must be accompanied by clear guidelines for use, storage, and disclosure.
This responsibility should not be left to local authorities, at the risk of creating disparities in practice, as is currently the case with graffiti removal and rat control.
Instead, the Quebec government should take the lead and create policies based on best practice and scientific evidence.