EDITOR - TODD LIHOU: It's only a matter of time before Cornwall police officers are wearing cameras

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It's probably only a matter of time before the Cornwall Community Police Service follows the trend of so many other forces and begins recording anything and everything its officers do while on patrol.

Many large municipal forces, especially those in the United States, have gone with recording systems (essentially a small camera attached to an officer's vest, or dash-mounted cams in a cruiser) to record the interactions police have with the public – good guys and bad guys.

Word around the Cornwall station is the idea has at least been discussed, very informally, though nothing official appears imminent.

Chief Dan Parkinson confirmed there's no plan to budget for such an item in the immediate future. Parkinson also suggested he would want to get some feedback from departments that currently employ the system, before making a decision.

But if such a scenario unfolds in Cornwall - and it says here it's a matter of when, not if – the local service won't be breaking the mold.

The Cornwall service already has cameras set up at strategic locales throughout the city right now, to monitor John Q. Public.

Many, especially following the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, last week, are suggesting it's time for the police to be monitored as well. Brown was killed after being shot by a police officer, though the circumstances of the case remain in dispute.

The city-wide camera system currently in use in Cornwall has helped police catch some bad guys on the odd occasion, but more importantly serves as deterrent because criminals will think twice about committing an offence if they know there's a police camera trained on them, or a specific piece of geography.

Next appears to be cameras attached to officers themselves. One of the big things holding up the idea is money. In today's tough economic climate, Parkinson might have a hard time convincing the Cornwall Police Services Board, let alone tight-fisted city councillors, to spend the money on such an expensive system.

But senior levels of government have already ponied up money for things like the aforementioned city camera system, and if the Cornwall police force could convince bean counters in Toronto or Ottawa to lay out some more cash for the Seaway City, then officer cameras could become a reality sooner.

The reaction to such a plan, among rank and file members of the police service, would be interesting, to say the least. Sgt. Dave MacLean, president of the Cornwall Police Association, told me his members would likely have a "mixed" reaction.

The big worry would be the camera system morphing into a supervisory tool, instead of something used to promote transparency. There were similar worries when the force installed GPS units in police cruisers – some officers believed it would become a way for bosses to sit on their shoulders for 12 hours, monitoring their every move.

That was four years ago, and the worries have evaporated. In fact, the system has been used on some occasions to exonerate officers who have been accused by bad guys of being in one place in city, doing god knows what, when the GPS unit clearly shows the police cruiser was nowhere near that location.

The officer-worn camera systems appear to be having an impact in the areas where they have been deployed – reducing the number of public complaints against officers. Many centres also report a vast reduction in the number of "use of force" incidents too.

On the flip side, the images the system captures, not to mention the audio, can be used by prosecutors during court proceedings, to prove how a suspect acted or spoke, during their arrest.

And like the GPS system currently in use, the footage can exonerate an officer who may face a disciplinary hearing if a member of the public issues a complaint.

The idea, at some point, is sure to be officially debated by the local police service. It says here it's only a matter of time, given the pace of technology, before that idea becomes a reality.

Organizations: Cornwall Community Police Service, Cornwall Police Services Board, Cornwall Police Association

Geographic location: Cornwall, United States, Ferguson, Missouri Toronto Ottawa Seaway

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