Video Evidence – The Need for Police Video Recorders

September 13, 2013

As CBC reported yesterday Toronto police Const. Babak Andalib-Goortani was found guilty of
assault with a weapon in the G20 arrest of Adam Nobody.  Video footage captured by a civilian played a large role in the Court’s decision. 

As reported by the Globe and Mail, in finding the officer guilty Ontario Court
Justice Louise Botham said: 

“The resistance offered by Mr. Nobody was minimal … A police officer is
not entitled to use unlimited force to effect arrest… I do not believe … that any
of the blows struck by the defendant were proportionate or necessary. “

The verdict in the Nobody case comes just days after cellphone video captured Ottawa police officers striking an individual multiple time after an altercation at nearby bar, raising question about the officers use of force.

It is fortunate for Mr. Nobody that the police assault was captured on video.  The Court described the video evidence as “limited but cogent”.

Police officers enter court with an air of credibility.  Police officers take notes, they are experienced witnesses, and they typically enjoy the support of their follow officers.  Police carry little of the baggage that most accused or witnesses are typical are saddled with.  In a straight credibility contest between a police officer and an accused, the police officer typically enjoys a distinct advantage.  It is for this reason that video evidence is so powerful and in many cases necessary for justice to be done.

The Nobody case illustrates the need for a requirement that police officers be required to wear personal video recorders.  My office has long been supporter of this measure (with appropriate privacy safe guards to protect the public).  The Ottawa Police Association also supports cameras for officers. 

Police video recorders ensure that there exists an accurate evidentiary record, they would also shorten litigation and ultimately save the justice system valuable resources.

As the Ottawa Sun reported police tend to change their behavior when they believe they are being filmed:

“[M]ore than 50% of the 231 officers said they use less force, or use
force less often, since it’s become so commonplace to be filmed.More than the majority, 74% say it has made them change their behaviour in one way or another.”

This finding is in and of itself shocking. 

Why would police need to change their behaviour just because they are being recorded.  Should the police not be acting appropriately regardless of whether they are being filmed or not? 

We should expect the police to always use appropriate force.    

Mr Nobody was fortunate that the actions of the police were recorded.  A victim of police misconduct (or one wrongly accused of misconduct themselves) should not have to rely on good fortune.

Measures to ensure the preservation of the best evidence through video recording should be put in place immediately.  The justice system as a whole would be better for it.