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-

Pushing the dreaded ‘red dot’ around

(Winnipeg Police Service)

Maps depict incidents of: Assault, Asst. w/ weapon, sexual assault, fighting, gun seen, gun known, shots fired, gunshot wound, robberies and stabbing reports

(Assumption is the demarcation colours hold true today)

Violent Crime Hotspots March 29, 2008 to March 28, 2009 (1 year)

High intensity (over 1,400 dispatched events) zones along Main near Burrows and In the Central Park Area (that disperses in all directions)

Zones of Concern (no fewer than 1,100 dispatched events) at Higgins and Main and along Portage near Portage Place Mall.

Map 2: 

Violent Crime Hotspots March 29, 2009 to March 28, 2010 (1 year)

– High intensity  zones at Main and Henry, and along Portage near Portage Place Mall.

Zones of Concern in Central Park and along Main to about Euclid and Main at Henry.

What do the maps appear to say?

  • Police-reported violence in Central Park appears to be on the wane
  • The area around Portage Place has become more violent
  • Suggests there’s a contradiction in the current of opinion that states safety downtown is a matter of perception, not reality
  • Some of the violence plaguing north main past the Higgins underpass appears to have migrated south to the area near the Sally Ann and the new WRHA building
  • The CCTV camera at Main and Henry appears to be to one most likely to catch criminal activity
  • There’s a growing pocket of crime a block or so south of Salter near Manitoba and Magnus

These maps were embedded in a report on the effectiveness of the WPS’ crime camera pilot project. You can read about what it says here.

The precis version is that technological hiccups may have limited how effective the cameras can be, and there’s [apparently] no conviction results yet (from 2009? really?) to measure if the footage is holding up in court.

The tech. problems prompted State of the City to sagely ask: ” I also don’t get how (police) became responsible for tech risk & maintenance costs in the 1st place.”