Falling prey to novelty: Winnipeg Police Board part ii

Lest this be perceived as a personal criticism of Winnipeg Police Board Chair Coun. Scott Fielding, it’s not.

It is, however, a critique of his motion (sadly, the very first of our new police board to foist upon the WPS) which now ties up police time to study and report back on the idea that city police officers wearing  body cameras would be a step forward for public safety and foster greater accountability.

First, this isn’t a new idea. For years, $1-million taxpayer bucks has been earmarked in the city’s 2016 projected capital budget for this proposal. Why it’s suddenly necessary to bring forward now, who knows? More on this below.

The upside, we’re told, is police uniform cameras would lead to fewer accusations against police, and secure iron-clad evidence to be used in court against suspects, leading to speedier convictions.

I agree with Chief Devon Clunis when he says the actual amount of legitimate officer-misconduct complaints are pretty low in Winnipeg.

Therefore, the benefit of blowing a million bucks on videotaping arrests as an accountability seems a waste.

And the thing is, it’s not just a million bucks.

That may be the projected initial cost of equipping 800 officers in the scheme, but the better, more practical, question to ask is: OK. We have all this great video footage. Now what?

Clunis estimated the true cost of cops wearing cameras would be double or triple the $1-million price tag.

I’d be willing to guess it may be even more than that. It’s not just as simple as a cop coming off shift and dropping off a flash card at the desk and saying. ‘see ya.’

Should that footage be requested for court purposes, it would require someone to review, annotate and transcribe it for it to be disclosed and used in a legally-appropriate manner.

One conservatively staffed 10-hour shift of 54 general patrol officers would equal [assuming the whole shift is recorded] is 540 hours of video. At three shifts a day that’s 1,620 hours of video a day to be catalogued, maintained and preserved by somebody for some potential eventual use.

Who does that work and at what cost remains the huge unanswered question. How Charter and privacy rights are affected is also an unknown at this point.

Second, video evidence, in my experience, seldom speeds up the court process.

Instead, it becomes another legitimate avenue for the defence to carefully assess and weigh a case, leading to delay. In the recent Pizza Hotline murder of Gerald Crayford, for example, there was video evidence from in the store where it happened.

From Judge Rocky Pollack’s recent decision in the D.S. case [emphasis mine].

With clarity, the store security camera recorded D.V.J.S. walking in first, hiding his face with a black toque and a bandanna.  Over his shoulder, requiring two hands to hold it, was an axe.  Mr. B… was wearing a hood and he was carrying a knife.  They came in quickly, demanding to know where the money was.  When Mr. Passawe ran toward the rear, the youths ran out the front door, crossed the street to a hospital and called 911 to report the robbery.

[11]        D.V.J.S. and Mr. B…. caught Mr. Passawe before he could escape.  D.V.J.S. held the axe in a threatening manner and demanded that the man open the till.  He went through his pockets and took his phone, headphones, a bank card and some change.  Then the robbers moved toward the front of the store.

[12]        Mr. Passawe was able to run out through the back door and hide.  Heading toward the front of the store, D.V.J.S. came upon Mr. Crayford and demanded his phone.  Mr. Crayford struggled with him, trying to get the axe.  He was able to pull the toque off during that struggle, during which he was punched by D.V.J.S.  When the attacker cried out for help, Mr. B… provided help by pulling Mr. Crayford off D.V.J.S.  That is when D.V.J.S. struck Mr. Crayford with the axe, raised it again and hit him a second time.  Both blows were with the blunt end of the axe to Mr. Crayford’s head.

[13]        After that, neither gave Mr. Crayford so much as a glance as they struggled with the cash register.  Because they were unable to get it to open, they just picked it up and left with it.

Crayford was murdered in May 2011. D.S.’ case wasn’t finalized till this July, despite the availability of video evidence. An adult co-accused has yet to face trial or deal with his matter.

The other major issue is: How can it be that at a time where the WPS is facing budget cuts that City Hall would be at all still willing to spend a million bucks on this?

More importantly, how can the police board countenance the lost police time and resources that must now be spent examining the proposal and crafting a report for their consideration?

Fielding is right when he says innovation is key if we’re to find greater efficiencies. I totally agree.

But there’s innovation backed by some kind of necessary purpose, and innovation for novelty’s sake or to score a few headlines.

This cop camera proposal falls directly in the latter camp.

If this board is to succeed, it must learn to not fall prey to go-nowhere distractions like this one will end up being.

-30-

Why details are important, or: get with the times

(National Post)

Yesterday’s post about Graham James’s bail release inferred that there was something hinky going on in terms of how the system worked in this case.

It’s my belief today that there was, but not solely related to James’s case as I (and many others) incorrectly implied yesterday.

Instead, the issue is more of a systemic one relating to how the media and public are often left in the dark in a criminal justice system that’s supposed to be open to a fault, according to countless judges.

But in Manitoba, there’s nagging issues with the system that point to it lagging far behind the times.

To her credit, the Crown on the case, Colleen McDuff, was forthright in her explanation of why things happened the way they did, best explained by CP and a few lines from Mike McIntyre’s story in today’s FP.

CP:

A Manitoba Crown attorney says there was no secrecy involved in releasing convicted sex offender Graham James on bail.
Colleen McDuff says it is “just how the nature of his release
played out.”
McDuff says most of the conditions had been fixed in court last
week and there were only a few details to be worked out.
One was the address where he would be reporting to police in
Montreal.
James was expected to be in a Winnipeg court yesterday to
finalize his bail conditions.
But documents indicate that a justice of the peace signed off on
his release late Friday afternoon after James posted 10-thousand dollars in cash.

But, crucially, there’s more: From Mike Mac:

Crown attorney Colleen McDuff said there was nothing “sneaky” about how James was released.

“There was no conspiracy here. He was treated the same way as everyone else who gets bail,” McDuff told the Free Press.

Pollack originally granted bail to James on Dec. 7, despite objections by the Crown. A court-ordered ban prevents specific details of the hearing from being published. James didn’t get out that day because lawyers still had to draft the various terms of his release, which Pollack asked to be sent to him in chambers for final approval.

James was never required to make a further court appearance on the bail.

Once Pollack received the conditions, he drew up the order and it became official. James then had to wait until Friday to come up with a $10,000 surety he is required to post. Once the money was in, James was free to go.

His case was put on Monday afternoon’s docket but simply as a way to keep track of it. He is not required to make personal appearances unless ordered by a judge.

While I’m still a little unclear about the distinction ‘justice of the peace’ versus Judge Pollack himself signing off on bail conditions in chambers, this explanation makes more sense in terms of process.

It’s weird, and to be honest, I hadn’t ever encountered things being done this way, but whatever — I’m not the most experienced or smart courts reporter in the world.

We already knew James was getting out.

The problem is, the Crown could have expected the public to be confused by the process as it unfolded and taken easy steps to correct it.

When reporters left the courthouse on Dec. 7, they were under the understanding that the hearing would continue yesterday, a bail order would be signed off on in open court and it would be publicly put on the record.

Yes, reporters would be there to witness it. Yes, TV cameras would be camped outside the Law Courts, yes, there would be questions and requests for interviews.

Forgive us. That’s our job, and justice system participants like it enough when they need something to reach the public’s eyes and ears. We’re part of the landscape and ignoring that reality just won’t work. That much is clear.

But in the case of James’s release, the system didn’t work as the public was led to expect it would —Instead, it went the other way, resulting in the suspicion that something was going on in the shadows, that maybe James was getting special treatment.

Given the ever-increasing roadblocks put up in the media’s way in modern times, it’s only natural — and should have been expected — that there’d be some headscratching and a few questions for how his release came together in the end.

It’s not surprising, or a stretch for the Prosecutions Division to have seen that there was/is immense public interest in this case and responded accordingly on Friday by issuing a news release to media outlets that James had met his bail conditions ahead of the perceived schedule and what those conditions were.

It really would have been that simple.

And not without precedent: When the Crown applies for a publication ban in high-profile cases, they’re often quick to send a fax off to newsrooms to notify them of what’s being sought — likely for the reason they could oppose it should they choose.

It happened just the other day in connection to the Mark Stobbe murder case.

When the charges against James were formally laid recently, the Crown faxed the court informations (public charging documents) over to newsrooms explaining clearly what was happening and the restrictions on publishing certain information (the names of two of the complainants).

The media, and therefore the public, knew what was happening, it was a clear signal from the Crown that it wanted to get in front of what was certain to be a highly-publicized case and make sure nothing incorrect or prejudicial to the case or alleged victims got out.

So, from this, it would have been a simple matter of following through to keep everybody in the loop.

I get that Crowns are overworked and don’t have time to be worrying about the media’s needs, which, I admit could be perceived as overwhelming in some cases.

But how much time did McDuff have to spend on Monday giving interviews to clarify a situation that could have been easily cleared up with an emailed or faxed statement regarding what happened?

It’s not rocket science.

And — in the absence of keeping the public in the loop by some other means — is it inconceivable that the Crown, faced with a request to deal with James’s conditions and release on Friday, could have said ‘not today, see you in court as scheduled’?

-30-

Recommended Reading: National Post article on Digitizing the Law.

Come on. Even the Queen (sometimes known as the Crown) is on Facebook now.