By Elizabeth Howell
Photos by Chris Roussakis

Insp. (Ret.) Lance Valcour was a police officer for over 30 years, doing everything from serving as a dispatcher to being Incident Commander for former U.S. president George W. Bush’s visit to Ottawa in 2004.

Speaking at Carleton University at a conference on Monday, Jan. 20, 2020, he shared one of his biggest “lessons learned” from serving the public. At times, he said, “information wasn’t shared that was allowed to be shared and this caused someone to be hurt and our community to be less safe.”

Today, Valcour is a senior strategic adviser for Axon Public Safety Canada, a firm that creates technology products for law enforcement and civilian applications. His speech kicked off an afternoon workshop for researchers, public safety practitioners and students to discuss how technology can be used to assist police officers and civilians in building safer communities.

The rise of cell phones, portable cameras and cloud storage all provide new opportunities for police officers to gather and share evidence. But the challenge is weaving these technologies together efficiently, and making sure that everything can be used in court. The conference included discussions on this issue, as well as presentations from several experienced hands in policing and policing technology. Live demonstrations of body-worn cameras and virtual reality technology were also available.

Chairing the conference was Carleton’s Craig Bennell, director of both the Police Research Lab and the Forensic Psychology Research Centre. “One of my goals in these roles is to create opportunities for meaningful conversations to take place between academic researchers, public-sector organizations and private-sector companies,” he explained before the conference.

Bennell is highly familiar with Axon’s technology through his research, which is partly supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). Under a four-year Insight grant worth nearly $176,000, Bennell is examining policy issues police services face when using body-worn cameras for evidence. Axon regularly partners with Ontario police services (and with Carleton) for research using its own equipment.

“With respect to body-worn cameras, some police services are struggling with whether officers should be permitted to view their footage before preparing reports following an incident with a member of the public,” said Bennell. “We don’t know what impact viewing footage would have on notetaking. Research can help answer this question, and in turn be used to develop evidence-informed policies.”

Axon also has another Carleton connection – Stefan Schurman, the company’s senior regional sales manager for Canada, graduated from the university with a degree in computer science in 1997. Axon’s mandate includes building technologies, doing research to demonstrate benefits to law enforcement, and making enhancements for operational work while promoting officer safety. While Axon is best known for its TASER product, today their offerings have expanded to include in-car and body cameras, and digital evidence management solutions, among other things.

“One of our overarching missions is around protecting life and so, as part of that, we built a series of connected devices and applications to help not only protect life, but also to streamline different processes within law enforcement agencies to keep their officers and communities safer,” Schurman said.

What this means is that police officers in the field can upload evidence while they are still on patrol using mobile devices they are already familiar with. Video footage and photos of evidence can be obtained through a phone app and sent to the cloud. An officer can avoid driving back to the station for this administrative work.

Even small gains make a big difference. The Denver Police Department found that for every one-per-cent reduction in administration, 15 more police officers were freed up to work with the public, according to a study done by the city of Denver. At the South Simcoe Police Service, Chief Andrew Fletcher has found that some administrative work can be done by civilians, freeing police officers to work in their field of expertise.

“Our world is riddled with paperwork, and with this new technology we’re able to process those things faster and not necessarily have the police officers do it,” Fletcher explained. He pointed to initiatives like Carleton’s research as essential for his department because the service has statistics in hand to show stakeholders the value of those tools.

“It’s important that we analyze our community safety efforts – for example, if someone is wearing a body-worn camera and can use that evidence as part of the court case it could make that process faster – but we want to measure that,” Fletcher said.

Schurman showed one piece of footage at the Carleton conference that likely saved a police officer’s career. A Baltimore police officer was sporting a body-worn camera as he chased down a suspect in the streets. The footage showed the suspect briefly turning and pointing a gun directly at the officer, prompting the officer to fire a weapon to immobilize the suspect. “You can imagine what the headlines might have looked like without the footage,” Schurman said.

Learn more about Bennell’s research at this Carleton website.

Thursday, February 6, 2020
Share: Twitter, Facebook