Toronto police announced last month that they are one step closer to implementing the use of body cameras to increase public trust and accountability. This is a welcome move, though not without its share of wrinkles. And the extent to which we can expect accountability as a result of these measures remains to be seen.
Friends say Andrew Loku was in distress when police approached him with guns drawn. The incident happened in the hallway of Loku’s apartment building, a complex that houses people with mental health concerns, in July of 2015.
No charges were laid against the offending officer after the Special Investigations Unit completed its investigation.
And accounts of what actually occurred in these and countless other similar cases differ between police officers involved and civilian witnesses at the scene.
Racialized police violence perpetrated against black and brown men in the GTA and across North America is endemic, often with fatal outcomes.
Racialized police violence perpetrated against black and brown men in the GTA and across North America is endemic, often with fatal outcomes. Racial profiling is common practice despite legislation intended to mitigate it.
“When you look at the increasing numbers of African Canadians and the growing population of federal institutions, and you look at the data that has been produced, it’s the same, regardless—youth justice, adult justice, in terms of who’s granted bail and who isn’t, in terms of more severe sentencing—we see the whole issue of carding and racial profiling, and that in and of itself contributes to who gets caught up in the net of the criminal justice system,” Margaret Parsons, Executive Director of the African Canadian Legal Clinic, said.
Though over-policing occurs in black and Indigenous communities and accounts for much of the over-representation of those populations in corrections, Parsons notes that police body-worn cameras would benefit everyone.
“Whether it’s in terms of poor communities, in terms of First Nation communities, in terms of people with mental health issues, you know it impacts on everyone and I think it’s about, as a public institution, it’s important that we trust,” Parsons said, adding that everyone should be on board.
Still, critics say that the study is flawed in its design and could present a missed opportunity for better data.
“Their main findings were that most of the public who returned the surveys think that with body cameras, they will make the police more accountable, and most of the officers who wore the cameras like the technology,” Erick Laming, a PhD candidate who studies criminology and sociolegal studies at the University of Toronto, said.
In a force of roughly 5,000 officers, Laming said the TPS had access to a large sample size that could have yielded empirical data, citing examples such as whether the cameras impacted police use of force, and whether there was, in fact, a reduction in complaints against the police from the public.
For the time being, these and other questions remain unanswered.
“They could easily have studied this, to see if it either decreased or made no difference after the cameras came in, but they didn’t do this,” Laming said.
Toronto police apparently cited an insufficient amount of time to conduct better research, but Laming notes that a tiny police force in Rialto, CA managed to perform significant quantitative research in less time.
“I don’t want to come out and say it’s a publicity stunt by the Toronto police service”
“There’s just so many errors that are in the report, that the public really doesn’t know because, again it’s kind of more of a — I don’t want to come out and say it’s a publicity stunt by the Toronto police service because, you know, a lot of police services waited for the results and because they’re positive, a lot of them are thinking about adopting them,” Laming said.
Parsons remains optimistic that the cameras will be implemented across the TPS soon.
“I’m hopeful that they will move forward with it and move forward with it quickly. I don’t think that it should take a long time to implement, because it’s been done effectively in other jurisdictions, so they could learn from those examples. And I think, you know hopefully that within a year that the body cameras will be up and running,” Parsons said.
In terms of racialized policing and the overall approach police take, Parsons cited a need for introspection within the force.
“We’re still stuck in a very archaic police culture and a very archaic view of what policing should be. And it’s time that police, you know, look at those systems and engage in police reform, to ensure that they are in step with the times and that they are policing in a more modern way.”
Vv made repeated requests to question the TPS on the use of body cams, but we have not heard back as of press time.
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