Toronto Star

Dec. 10, 02:00 EDT

Police turn to video cameras for domestic assault cases

Hamilton force to use taped evidence after Windsor's success

Susan Clairmont
Toronto Star

HAMILTON — Hamilton police officers specially trained to deal with domestic disputes will soon begin carrying video cameras so victims who have been assaulted, threatened, stalked and terrorized by their partners can be recorded as they describe what happened to them.

By bringing the equipment into the home, they hope to mirror the police success in Windsor, where the conviction rate in domestic disputes went from 50 per cent when traditional written statements were taken to 95 per cent when videotaping was introduced.

"It produces a higher rate of guilty pleas," says Staff Sergeant Jerome Brannagan of the Windsor police.

"It provides the court with the best evidence: what the emotions are like at the time, what the location is like at the time, what the injuries are like at the time."

When a copy of the video is turned over to the defence lawyer as part of the disclosure package, the lawyer almost always decides it is not in the client's best interest for the court to see an image of a sobbing, battered, frightened victim, says Brannagan. So the accused usually pleads guilty rather than gambling on the reaction of a judge or jury.

Windsor was the first police service in the province to use the video cameras for domestic cases and is now training other services — most recently in Peterborough and Durham Region — to do the same.

The courts accept video statements just as readily as victims' statements.

Toronto police don't bring video recorders or instant cameras into homes where domestic abuse has been reported as a matter of policy, but if officers feel it's necessary, those items can be dispatched to the scene, a Toronto police spokesperson said. Toronto police do videotape statements and photograph injuries in the police station.

In Windsor, police have expanded their use of cameras to include statements from sexual assault victims as well.

`It will give everyone a full picture of what the victim went through.'
- Detective Helena Russell, Hamilton police

Hamilton police are waiting for the 10 new video cameras they've ordered to be delivered and then they, too, will begin capturing statements from domestic violence victims on video.

Those cameras, as well as a number of Polaroid cameras that will be used to photograph victims' injuries, were purchased with a $30,000 grant through the local YWCA.

In Hamilton, 67 police officers have been trained as domestic violence officers. But because of promotions, retirements and job changes in the last few years, only 20 of those officers are actually working on the street.

Detective Helena Russell, domestic violence co-ordinator for the department, says she wants to have 56 trained officers on patrol by next spring.

They will all have access to the video cameras.

Police believe the new approach will also be more convenient and less traumatic for victims, said Russell.

No longer will a mother and her children have to be led off to a police station to give a written statement and be photographed.

Now it can all be done quickly, in their own home or some other safer spot.

"It will give everyone a full picture of what the victim went through," she says.

Hamilton Spectator

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