Mounties testing Taser video cams, rights group has questions

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OTTAWA - The Mounties are making some videos, and you don't want to be in them.
RCMP officers in Kelowna, B.C., and Moncton, N.B., are testing two kinds of cameras that will record Taser firings during six-month field trials.
Included in the tests are the Taser Cam, an accessory for newer-model stun guns made by Taser International, supplier to the RCMP, and the VIDMIC, an audio-video recorder that attaches to an officer's belt radio.
Field testing of the devices in the two communities was slated to begin in December, say internal briefing notes on the project obtained under the Access to Information Act.
Results from the trials will be analyzed to determine whether one or both of the devices are used more widely by the RCMP.
The tests come amid growing concern about police accountability on use of stun guns, which deliver a powerful jolt that incapacitates suspects.
An RCMP complaints commission report on the case of Robert Dziekanski - who died after being hit with an RCMP Taser at the Vancouver airport - said there would have been "a clear benefit" to video footage capturing the events from the officers' perspectives.
Complementing stun guns with recording devices may be beneficial because documenting incidents can make police more accountable, said Micheal Vonn, policy director of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association. However, an important factor will be what happens to the video and audio after they are recorded, she said.
There should be protocols to ensure the digital recordings cannot be tampered with and are readily made available to police watchdogs, she said.
"We see a lot of video go missing that complainants say would support their side of the story."
Vonn noted that a public tussle ensued over an amateur videotape of the October 2007 confrontation involving Dziekanski. The tape was returned to traveller Paul Pritchard, who shot the video and loaned it to the RCMP, after he threatened to go to court.
A camera made by Axon was disqualified from the field trials due to RCMP concerns about control over the videos.
"After obtaining further information on these cameras it was learned that the recordings from the Axon camera are sent to a third party housed in the United States," say the briefing notes prepared for senior Mounties.
"As a result of this the Axon was removed as an option for the pilot project."
The RCMP rented a total of 10 Taser Cams and 10 VIDMICS for the trials, say the notes.
Laboratory testing of the Taser Cams by MPB Technologies revealed that one was not functioning properly and that the battery could not be charged more than 20 per cent.
The notes indicate the lab tests also raised questions about the reliability of the Taser when the camera is attached. The camera comes with its own power supply that replaces the standard Taser power pack.
When the batteries were depleted to a level of 25 per cent with the camera in place, the Taser worked within tolerance 77 per cent of the time. When the same depletion test was done with the standard battery, the stun gun functioned within tolerance 92 per cent of the time.
The force believes six months is long enough to gather sufficient data and to see how the recording devices fare in cold weather and when officers are wearing winter gloves.
The RCMP didn't respond Wednesday to questions about the status of the tests.
In his report on the Dziekanski incident, Paul Kennedy, then-chairman of the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, noted police throughout the world are experimenting with video technology.
Last summer, the Victoria police department carried out a pilot project using body-worn video devices to record police dealings with the public.
Vonn said the civil liberties association has had trouble obtaining detailed results of the Victoria project.

Organizations: RCMP, British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, MPB Technologies Commission for Public Complaints

Geographic location: OTTAWA, Kelowna, Moncton Vancouver United States Victoria

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