Thunder Bay police are moving forward with a $2.1 million digital evidence management project, which will include equipping officers with body-worn and in-car cameras.
“We’ve been budgeting for it, but we also had the opportunity back in 2011 and again in 2013 to work on pilot projects, look at the viability of the new technology,” Thunder Bay police Chief Sylvie Hauth said in an interview. “We’ve taken advantage of other procurement processes in the province and we’ve made a selection. And we’re now officially moving ahead with Axon Canada on their holistic package approach.”
The new system will include body-worn cameras, in-car cameras, new interrogation room cameras, a cloud data storage system and wider deployment of Taser conductive energy weapons.
Hauth said all the equipment will tie into an Axon-developed ecosystem; that in itself will integrate with the Province of Ontario’s digital evidence management system, which was also developed by the company.
Hauth said the body-worn and in-car cameras will enhance both public safety and police accountability.
“The evidentiary value of a recording, in terms of officer and public interactions, it’s very useful,” she said. “You get exactly what was said, what was done. So from an investigative standpoint, you’re providing firsthand evidence to the courts through video in terms of that interaction.”
“It goes the same, obviously, for public complaints, where you have a recording of the interaction between the officer and the member of the public.”
Hauth said the Office of the Independent Police Review Director’s Broken Trust report, which was released in 2018 following an investigation into allegations of systemic racism in the Thunder Bay Police Service, “acknowledged the need for us to build on public trust.”
“When you’re looking at body-worn and in-car cameras, I think it basically gives us the opportunity to be accountable and transparent, really, with the use of that technology,” she said.
The project will also see police expand their use of Taser conductive energy weapons, which are also being purchased from AXON.
Hauth said the police service’s existing Tasers were reaching end-of-life and new versions of the weapons include built-in cameras.
“It’s really ensuring that everything is connected under the same holistically under the same technological system,” Hauth said.
And while the expanded deployment won’t mean every officer has a Taser, more will carry them now than did in the past, Hauth said.
“Before was more the specialized unit, the sergeants, for example, on the road,” she said. “Now we will have some dedicated officers that will be allocated always carry.”
As for the rollout of the new system, Hauth said COVID-19 has slowed things down a bit.
“There’s concerns, obviously, in terms of cross-border shipments … but also in terms of training,” she said. “It’s not like we can gather 20, 24 people in a room and bring in trainers.”
“We are hoping to see equipment on the ground by the end of the first quarter and hoping that we can do some small training in-house and then very slowly start with a small unit,” Hauth said. “Then, we continue to expand as, hopefully, the current community limitations in terms of our lockdown are eased, so that we can have a little bit more freedom to be able to do what we need to do.”