Police Complaints Authority investigators to start wearing body cameras

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Director of the Police Complaints Authority David West. – File photo

POLICE Complaints Authority (PCA) investigators will be wearing body cameras (body cams) when undertaking their investigations, a statement from the authority said on May 2.

The statement said members of the PCA Investigations Unit will wear body cams especially during interviews with witnesses.

“The cameras will also be used in the collection of evidence at crime scenes. The data will be captured and according to the protocols of the PCA, this will ensure compliance with privacy and evidentiary requirements.”

Newsday was unable to contact PCA director David West on May 2 to ask if the devices would be worn by civilian or police investigators tasked with investigating police for alleged wrongdoing, the numbers of devices acquired, whether witnesses could request the devices be switched off during a sensitive interview.

A PCA official said, “This new initiative is moving the PCA towards gathering evidence by digital means.

“We already use CCTV footage as well as evidence taken from cell phones. Now we are moving with the body cameras which will allow for a more transparent investigative process.”

Several police-involved fatal shootings are under active investigations by the PCA. These shootings plus other questionable activities by police have fuelled public calls for officers to be outfitted and mandated to wear body cams when on active duty in public.

In March 2022, Minister of National Security Fitzgerald Hinds told Senator Paul Richards during a Senate question time that the police have 1,160 body cameras.

“These have and are being deployed to maximum, strategic effort, across the police service, in the fight against crime and in the spirit of transparency and all the other positives that such cameras could offer,” Hinds had said.

Naparima MP Rodney Charles at a UNC briefing in September 2022, said body cams would record police/citizen interactions to ensure decency and professionalism, rather than Trinidad and Tobago being viewed as a country rife with extra-judicial killings.

In May 2023, Police Commissioner Erla Harewood-Christopher told the Joint Select Committee (JSC) on National Security some 1,200 body cams had been distributed to officers.

Senator Richards – a member of that committee – asked, “But are they being consistently used?” Harewood-Christopher said she could not say.

In April 2023, Sunday Newsday reported the PCA saying body cam footage was “one of the most useful and effective tools” to probe alleged police misconduct and can help to dispel allegations against officers and prove their innocence. However the PCA had added, footage is not always provided when requested.

“In a particular fatal shooting incident, even though officers were outfitted with the said cameras, they did not activate them. Therefore, no footage was retrieved,” the PCA said.

Later in April 2023, Harewood-Christopher said she was ordering police to use their body cams, promising, “any breach of this policy will be met with the requisite disciplinary action.”

The CoP added, “I am aware of the importance, value and benefits of body-worn cameras. They allow for greater transparency, and lead to faster resolutions of investigations, which in turn builds public trust and confidence in the police.”

However last March, a top officer told the JSC that the battery-life of body cams was too short – 1.5 hours – while police patrols went beyond that time. JSC chairman Keith Scotland advised that officers need not switch on the devices while driving to an assignment but must do so when going out in hot pursuit.