Hamilton Police Chief Eric Girt has endorsed councillors efforts to amend a city bylaw to allow police to use private camera footage as part of investigating criminal activity. – Kevin Werner/Metroland
Hamilton councillors say using homeowners’ private camera footage to catch criminals would improve neighbourhood safety.
Council agreed with Ward 4 Coun. Sam Merulla’s motion at the Feb. 7 general issues committee requesting staff study changing the bylaw to allow Hamilton police to use security footage from cameras located on private and commercial buildings.
Private surveillance cameras are required to avoid pointing in the direction of sidewalks or roadways in Hamilton to comply with provincial privacy guidelines. However, Merulla said Hamilton’s bylaw is unenforceable. He said residents’ cameras do contain footage of criminal activity in public areas. Merulla said it is no different than allowing people to be photographed on public streets or sidewalks.
Recently, Merulla said a resident provided footage of waste management staff located on a roadway to city officials, but it was the resident who was charged and fined for taking the footage.
Merulla said Hamilton police already use private camera footage as part of their investigations, such as with the Tim Bosma case that eventually led to the arrest and conviction of the Ancaster resident’s death.
“This is a public safety issue,” said Merulla.
Ancaster councillor and Hamilton board chair Lloyd Ferguson said there have been incidents of policing using stores’ camera footage at the Meadowlands to help police identify suspects in criminal activities.
“It’s absolutely the right thing to do,” said Ferguson.
Hamilton Police Chief Eric Girt has already endorsed the bylaw change in an effort to help his officers fight crime.
“When you see (footage) from a street position and it’s largely widespread, you get a much broader scope,” said Girt.
Flamborough Coun. Judi Partridge, who seconded Merulla’s motion, said Waterdown residents’ cameras have helped assist the police in curbing crime in their area.
“It makes it easier for (police),” said Partridge. “People feel more secure.”
In a statement, the officer of the information and privacy commissioner of Ontario, Brian Beamish, expressed concerns about changing the bylaw to collect images of individuals in public places for law enforcement reasons.
Using private surveillance cameras would be a “significant extension of the surveillance capability of Hamilton and its police service and could be construed as a way to avoid compliance with Ontario’s privacy laws.”