RCMP officers to get body cameras by 2023, but Abbotsford yet to commit to cams

The RCMP hopes to outfit Mounties in the Fraser Valley—and across Canada— with a body camera by 2023. But Abbotsford has yet to move forward with the cameras.

By Tyler Olsen | November 4, 2021 |6:00 am

The roll-out of body-worn cameras for RCMP officers will be complete across the Fraser Valley and Lower Mainland. But while citizen-police interactions in Langley, Chilliwack, and Mission will soon be recorded on camera, there are still no immediate plans for the cameras in Abbotsford.

The RCMP pledged last year to outfit officers with cameras after a series of videos showing altercations between officers and citizens, including one involving a First Nation Chief. Public details on the program have been sparse, but in February, it was estimated the cameras would cost $131 million over five years.

But this fall, RCMP brass across BC have told politicians that the cameras will be rolled out quicker than that.

At a recent forum including Lower Mainland mayors and RCMP brass, Hope Mayor Peter Robb and other politicians were told the body cameras would “be rolled out in stages to be completed by 2023,” according to minutes of a Hope council meeting last month.

Robb told council each camera will cost about $3,000, but that there are still legal issues to be resolved.

Some of those details have now been confirmed on an RCMP website. The site says roll out of the camera is beginning this winter and could be completed in two years. Up to 15,000 cameras are needed for forces across the country, the RCMP says.

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More information is trickling out from other council meetings. Terrace’s council was recently told the RCMP will keep footage for at least two years, according to local radio station CFNR. While citizens can ask an officer to turn off their camera, the officer can decide not to do so. Citizens will also be able to see footage of themselves by filing an Access to Information request. McBride council was given similar details in September.

The roll out of cameras will happen in some places earlier than others. Urban areas are expected to get the cameras first, although North Cowichan council was told their police expect to receive the cameras within a year or so.

RCMP officers are telling councillors that the cameras are a good idea and will increase accountability. Advocates have increasingly called for police body cameras as citizen-shot videos have provided evidence that has led to disciplinary action against officers found to have gone too far in the line of duty. The Current reported earlier this year that an Abbotsford man was dissatisfied after a police officer escaped punishment for pointing her gun at him and detaining him while he was at work. The officer was punished—but only for deleting the man’s cell phone video. Her boss determined the evidence showed the officer acted appropriately, but because the video had been deleted, that evidence would have consisted only of the accounts of the man stopped, and the several police officers present.

But cities and towns like Abbotsford that have their own municipal police forces are being left to determine for themselves when, and if, their officers should start wearing cameras. Some, like Delta, have already started the process. Many others have not. In the Fraser Valley, Abbotsford may soon be the only place where interactions between officers and citizens are not recorded. Last June, hundreds signed a petition calling on the local force to use body cameras.

When asked about the APD’s plans for body-worn cameras, a spokesperson for the department wrote in an email: “the Abbotsford Police Department is in support of the use of body-worn cameras. At this time, we will be monitoring the RCMP and their roll out and use of body-worn cameras.”

The APD has twice budgeted money for body-worn cameras, only to later abandon those spending plans. In 2019, the city and the APD had set aside $1 million to buy cameras. But those plans were ditched the following year, with Serr saying that privacy concerns and the cost to store footage had prompted the decision. Shortly after, Serr told a Police Board meeting that the items were removed from the budget when the cameras were not mandated. There was a “discussion” last year about piloting the cameras during large events, but more than a year later, they have not yet been used in Abbotsford.

This week, the APD and other Abbotsford city departments are outlining their spending plans for the coming year. Body cameras have not yet made it back into the budget.

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Tyler Olsen

Managing Editor at Fraser Valley Current

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