By Katie DeRosa and Joanne Hatherly, Times Colonist August 19, 2009 5:57 AM
Police hope a body-worn video device now being tested will help them crack a serious assault case, but civil libertarians are worried the technology could be overused, putting privacy rights at risk.
The compact audio-visual cameras are mounted on officers’ helmets or sunglasses as part of a pilot project that was launched Canada Day and will close Aug. 31. Police expect to issue a report by the end of September.
One camera recorded the arrest of three men connected to an assault that occurred in the early-morning hours of July 2, leaving the victim with serious head injuries. One of the men gave false identification information that police later discovered — when he failed to turn up for a bail hearing — belonged to someone whose wallet had been stolen.
"Obviously, he memorized the information from the man’s identification," said Sgt. Grant Hamilton, Victoria police spokesman. Police are releasing images from the video footage in hopes the public can identify the man.
"We would not have that photo if it was not for body-worn video," said Const. Brendon LeBlanc, the project manager who oversees the cameras’ use and wears one during his bike patrols.
Police use the cameras to record drug deals, traffic stops, bylaw offences and other interactions. Officers inform people that they are being recorded.
"I think there’s an application for body-worn video in all street-level policing," said LeBlanc.
That worries Micheal Vonn, policy director at the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, who feels such a broad application infringes on privacy rights. "Do the police require, on a routine traffic stop, the recording of motorists?" she asked.
Hamilton said the tool benefits not only police but individuals under investigation. "If I was falsely arrested, the best evidence would show that on video," he said, adding police consulted with the office of the privacy commissioner before launching the project.
Vonn remains skeptical. "We’re deeply suspicious of this use of the new technology under a pilot project that the police themselves will be evaluating."
How effective the body-worn video will be in investigations must still be tested in court — six cases are awaiting trial.
For now, police hope the video images of the alleged Canada Day assailant will yield results.
Anyone with information about the incident or can identify the man, believed to be in his late teens, about six feet tall and weighing about 170 pounds, is asked to contact Victoria police at 250-995-7654 or Crime Stoppers at www.victoriacrimestoppers.ca or at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).
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