Saskatchewan RCMP prioritized rifles, body armour over in-car cameras

Alex MacPherson, Saskatoon StarPhoenix

RCMP 'F' Division Supt. Kris Vibe says scarce resources led the division to phase out its old dashcams before new systems were operational. (MORGAN MODJESKI/THE SASKATOON STARPHOENIX)
RCMP ‘F’ Division Supt. Kris Vibe says scarce resources led the division to phase out its old dashcams before new systems were operational. (MORGAN MODJESKI/THE SASKATOON STARPHOENIX)

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s Saskatchewan division says “competing priorities” and “scarce resources” led it to break ranks with 11 other divisions across the country by abandoning it’s old dashboard cameras before new in-car video recording systems were ready to use. 

F Division, which encompasses the entire province, prioritized other programs including the purchase of Colt Canada C7 carbines and new body armour over maintaining the discontinued cameras, RCMP superintendent Kris Vibe said in an interview Friday, one week after it emerged that no other division made a similar choice

“We decided to invest in new technology and I don’t know if it would have been a good use of public funds to continue to try and prop up and old technology that you couldn’t get parts for anymore,” Vibe said before adding: “If you had a choice between in-car videos or carbines in every vehicle, I think that the choice would be carbines.”

The RCMP, which has been using dashcams since the early 1990s, began looking for new systems in 2013. Initially, eight divisions — including “F” Division — decided to spend a total of $3.4 million on new cameras and servers, with the aim of creating an integrated nationwide database. 

Since that decision was taken, Vibe said, the division stopped maintaining its existing dashcams, of which only about 60 are still operational today. 

Including its initial investment, F Division has to date spent about $2 million on 250 cameras and associated hardware, about 150 of which have been installed in some of its 500-odd police cars, Vibe said. While many of those cameras were installed two years ago, none are functional except for a few being used by three detachments — Saskatoon, Southey and White Butte — in a pilot project.

According to a decision in a drunk driving case published last month, an RCMP constable told a Regina court that the camera installed in her car could not even be switched on because the force has not yet developed a policy for how the footage will be stored. The RCMP, however, insists that rolling out the new systems is a priority. 

The situation is concerning to some local criminal defence lawyers, who told the StarPhoenix that while impartial video evidence can occasionally convict clients that would otherwise have been acquitted, it is important because it protects citizens from potential abuses of police power and officers from unfounded complaints about their conduct.

Vibe said while getting the new systems operational was “probably a little more work than we thought,” the force is taking it seriously and believes in-car cameras increase officers’ accountability. Asked why F Division allocated its resources differently than those that chose to continue using the older cameras, he said he couldn’t speak for those decisions.

“What I can say here in F Division is we made a decision to upgrade our (in-car video) platform and we’ve spent a lot of time moving towards that new technology to store and manage the data … We’re involved in a pilot project which is going to end next week. That pilot’s gone very well and we’re quite optimistic that we’re going to be rolling out this program very shortly.” 

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