A Winnipeg city councillor tried, and failed, to get a motion passed this week to purchase body cameras for Winnipeg Police Service officers.
Coun. Kevin Klein (Charleswood-Tuxedo-Westwood) brought the motion to city council’s Assiniboia community committee on Tuesday, calling the cameras “a reliable eyewitness” to incidents involving police. He argued they are needed even more in a climate in North America filled with accusations of racism and excessive force by police.
“This is the time now to put in accountability for everyone,” Klein said.
“I think the residents are asking for it; officers are asking for it. There is no time like the present to do this. We have been ignoring the problem for a long time and we continue to push it off.”
Klein says the cost for the units and the data collection equipment necessary has dropped substantially since the city first considered deploying body cameras, with the total expense now coming in around $2 million.
He says recent reports from Toronto suggest the cost to outfit officers there had dropped to a fraction of the original estimate.
The budget to outfit all the officers on the WPS was estimated several years ago to be between $8 to $10 million, and a pilot project was launched in 2015 to look at their use.
The project was scrapped a year later due to budget pressures.
The purchase of cameras for the Winnipeg Police Service was later deferred to the 2024 budget process.
Klein’s motion on Tuesday was defeated 2-1, with committee members Coun. Scott Gillingham (St. James) and Coun. Janice Lukes (Waverley West) voting against it.
“I don’t feel comfortable on this,” Lukes said during the meeting of the community committee. “There is little proof it reduces use of force incidents.”
Gillingham nixed the motion over concerns about the costs. He also suggested the community committee wasn’t the place for a motion on body cameras for police, and that the city’s police board was the appropriate venue.
Klein was the chair of the police board until he resigned earlier this year.
He says the police board has recommended the deployment of body cameras, but the program was scrapped by city hall’s budget working group.
“We have to find a different way to make it happen and we need to make the funds available to make that happen. Accountability is important to all residents, and this is a small step,” Klein said.
Police board chair Coun. Markus Chambers (St. Norbert-Seine River) isn’t convinced of either the budget numbers Klein is touting, or the efficacy of the cameras.
“I really think that we need to put more dollars in training … and not only training, but hiring more of a diverse police service,” Chambers told CBC News.
He said he is open to reviewing the use of cameras “maybe sometime down the road,” but “there are other priorities that our service is facing that don’t warrant the need for body worn cameras at this time.”
The police board chair did say he would re-examine the issue if there was support for the cameras from stakeholders in the community.
Winnipeg Police Service Chief Danny Smyth has previously publicly supported equipping officers with body cameras. A member of the police service was unavailable to comment on the story on Wednesday.
CBC News contacted the Winnipeg Police Association for comment, but has not received a response.
Klein says he will engage police officers and others to apply pressure on the city to purchase the equipment.
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