In May 2016, the SPVM equipped 78 police officers with body cameras for a period of seven months. The pilot project, aimed at evaluating the impact of mandatory body cameras on the use of force, ended in April of last year. An extensively detailed report of the project was presented to the City of Montreal’s Public Security Commission on February 1.
The SPVM cited promoting transparency as a main objective of the project. The SPVM wants to “reinforce the bond of trust between police officers and citizens.”
The SPVM was responsible for the deaths of Pierre Coriolan in 2017 and Nicholas Gibbs in 2018. Both Coriolan and Gibbs’ deaths were filmed on cell phones, which has helped their families fight for justice.
Almost a year later, the SPVM’s final report advises against the widespread implementation of body cameras within the city’s police forces. The report says that “the project did not unequivocally demonstrate that portable cameras promote the transparency of police interventions, strengthen trust between the police and the citizen, and ensure the safety of police.”
According to the report, the majority of officers felt that the program undermined their right to privacy at work. For some, the cameras felt like an intrusion: 90 per cent of the officers who took part in the pilot project felt as though they had been placed under surveillance.
The costs associated with outfitting the city’s 3,000 police officers with body cameras were said to exceed the value of the “estimated benefits” stemming from this initiative. The initial installation costs of the devices, incurred over the span of five years, would amount to $17.4 million, in addition to the annual $24 million in annual running costs. Lionel Perez, leader of Ensemble Montréal, claims these costs are severely exaggerated.
After examining the report, mayor Valérie Plante decided against implementing the project. In a February 6 statement, she said that Montreal’s police service could not handle the increase in costs. However, Plante is open to future discussions regarding the project.
Members of City Council are also asking the mayor to reconsider her decision.
“It’s clear that there is an investment, but […] there is a societal cost to doing nothing. There are issues of racial profiling, transparency — and public confidence is priceless,” stated Perez.
Since the decision, many have expressed their disappointment regarding Plante’s hasty decision. Victims of police brutality have voiced their dissent. Many of them believe that officers’ behaviour during arrests would change if they were being recorded and thus held accountable for their actions. Majiza Philip, whose arm was broken by SPVM officers in 2014, told CBC that “if the police knew they were being watched, it would have been different.” She went on to say that “I think one of the reasons [the SPVM doesn’t want body cameras] is because they don’t want to be accountable.”