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TTC tests out body cameras as part of new use-of-force policy

TTC fare inspectors and special constables will soon begin wearing body cameras as the transit agency looks to address issues with use-of-force policies involving passengers, but questions are being raised about how effective the cameras will be and whether the policy itself is sound.

A nine-month pilot program beginning in May will see 20 special constables and 20 fare inspectors don the body cameras, which are much like those worn by police. The pilot project will be evaluated afterward with its findings given to the TTC board in late 2024.

The policy was adopted by the transit commission’s board after several ombudsman reports made recommendations following incidents involving TTC fare inspectors and passengers. Twenty-six recommendations were made in 2017 to improve oversight, training, and public reporting of special constables and fare inspectors.

Another ombudman’s report, following an incident in which three TTC fare inspectors pinned a Black rider on the ground, raised concerns over whether the TTC conducted internal investigations in a fair, effective way. It also  recommended new training for internal investigators to look for racial bias.

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Jamaal Myers, chair of the TTC board, said the body-camera pilot project will add more oversight of what happens during and after interactions between enforcement officers and transit passengers. “Our fare inspectors, special constables, have thousands of interactions every day and you never hear about them,” Myers said. “But for those few that do cause a controversy, it’s good to have an accurate record of what actually transpired.”

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Myers said the policies were overdue and they will be a critical part of ensuring there is a culture shift at the TTC.

According to a TTC report, special constables received around 31,000 calls in 2023, 11 per cent higher than the previous year. Those calls ultimately resulted in 57 incidents where use-of-force reports were required. Nine of the incidents led to someone suffering injuries.

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However, the policy and the body-camera pilot project are being met with skepticism by some.

Homeless outreach worker Diana Chan-McNally said there is little to suggest the added surveillance will make a difference. “If we look at the evidence around body-worn cameras, there is no evidence that they actually improve safety on transit or in any kind of space, like policing.”

Chan-McNally said cameras do little to support an equitable approach to understanding why people react violently towards enforcement when they’re already in crisis.

Shelagh Pizey-Allen, from the transit advocacy group TTCRiders, said the overall approach to the use-of-force policy is flawed. “We wanted clarity that force is never acceptable when somebody doesn’t pay $3.30,” she said. “Force is never acceptable when someone doesn’t return a library book.”

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Myers said he understands the skepticism and is committing to getting the policy right with updates every four months.

“What are the glitches, what can we do better, what can we maybe improve or do away with?” he said.

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