In the wake of a troubling racial profiling report, the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) has come under intense scrutiny from the public and from city officials. After an initial pilot project turned out to be too expensive, the Plante administration opted against body cameras on Montreal police officers. A year after Project Montréal's refusal to equip the SPVM with body cameras, the city's official opposition party, Ensemble Montréal, is demanding that the administration deploy body cameras on SPVM officers by January 1, 2021.
Many argue that body cameras are one of the best ways to best protect the rights of individuals and keep officers accountable.
The SPVM's pilot project for body cameras occurred between May 2016 and February 2017 and found that residents were "more satisfied" with police officers equipped with body cameras. In fact, it was found that public confidence in the SPVM "vastly improved" during the pilot project.
The rationale behind not equipping SPVM officers with body cameras comes down to associated costs. However, reports suggest that the SPVM exaggerated the cost of the cameras.
"There's been lots of lip service, but very little concrete action," said city councillor Marvin Rotrand. "[The SPVM] refused body cameras, claiming the costs were too high. That's truly regrettable."
"The SPVM understands that there is a purpose and a need for body cameras," said Rotrand at a press conference Tuesday morning.
"But the SPVM released a report that was surprisingly negative, which in our opinion, ignored the best practices and reflected unconscious angst from SPVM officers over public scrutiny."
Rotrand blamed the Plante administration for what he perceived as a lack of leadership on the issue and highlighted that Montreal should move to implement body cameras by January 1, 2021.
"Police-community relations are not driven by police forces, they are driven by politicians. I don't blame the SPVM, I blame Valérie Plante and for her lack of leadership on this issue of body cameras," said Rotrand.
According to the SPVM in the aftermath of the pilot project, it would cost $17.4 million to implement the technology and $24 million per year in management costs — figures that the official opposition say are overestimated and completely unrealistic.
In other cities such as Toronto, operating costs for the cameras are only around $2 million, according to Rotrand.
"[Body cameras] protect both the residents and the police. The video provides an additional tool to complement event reports, evidence sharing with Crown prosecutors, improves public perception of the police, and decreased vexatious complaints against police officers," said Abdelhaq Sari, Ensemble Montréal spokesperson for public safety.
With body cameras, the public will be encouraged to file complaints and question discriminatory behaviour by a police officer, according to Ensemble Montréal.
The city's official opposition party will present the motion at City Hall at the end of the month.
By January 1, 2021, Ensemble Montréal hopes that police officers in Montreal will have body cameras equipped at a more realistic cost point that what was first estimated.
"The issue of racial profiling is far from being over," said Alain Babineau of Centre for Research-Action on Race Relations.
"We have to put the subject of body cams back on the table, which will protect both police and resident. It's a win-win solution."