Getting personal: on the beat with body worn cameras

Getting personal: on the beat with body worn cameras

Tim Compston of SecurityNewsDesk discovers that body worn video cameras are increasingly in the frame to help protect police officers, workers and the wider community. As Body Worn Video (BWV) camera solutions expand their reach amongst police forces, and filter down to private security guards and customer-facing employees, we look at the state of play of this technology and the impact it is having for users.

From a police perspective, body worn video is certainly coming to the fore across the Atlantic in a US drive for greater ‘transparency’ following a series of cases of fatal incidents involving police officers and subsequent nation-wide protests. In the wake of this, back in May, the Department of Justice announced a $20 million pilot programme to expand the deployment of body worn cameras. Speaking at the time the Attorney General explained the thinking behind the scheme:

“Body worn cameras hold tremendous promise for enhancing transparency, promoting accountability, and advancing public safety for law enforcement issues and the communities they serve.”

Significantly, the utility of body worn video is backed-up by a number of studies. A frequently cited study, published by researchers from the University of Cambridge’s Institute of Criminology (IoC) – who analysed policing with body worn video cameras in Rialto California in 2012 – showed that during the 12-month experiment, compared to the previous year, use-of-force by officers wearing cameras fell by 59 percent and reports against officers dropped 87 percent. The Cambridge University researchers do, however, caution that more work needs to be done around the subject of body worn video before there is wholesale adoption by the police, in particular around questions like the impact that this evidence will have on the expectations of prosecutors, the policies that need to be implemented to cope with the volume of data and associated storage technologies.

On the move for policing
On this side of the Atlantic, body worn deployment has certainly moved into the fast lane with the Mayor of London’s announcement of a massive twenty-fold uplift in the number of units deployed. Boris Johnson confirmed that by March next year (2010) a further 20,000 devices, above and beyond existing cameras, will be available for use.

One of the strongest advocates of ‘body cams’ as far as the UK is concerned is Matthew Ellis, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Staffordshire, who was instrumental in ensuring that all front-line police officers, PCSOs and Special Constables, across Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent received body cams. Speaking to Ellis about why he went for body worn video cameras in such a big way, he says that this approach ties-in with his commitment to more open policing:

“Looking at quite a lot of the complaints which come in about police officers when individuals are being arrested, or more generally, I thought wouldn’t it be great to cut-out the awful amount of time that is wasted on spurious complaints from individuals who just don’t like being arrested and have been arrested in a perfectly sensible way. We are now able to look at the pictures of what actually happened rather than just relying on the words of individuals who disagree over the particular circumstances.”

Getting personal: on the beat with body worn cameras
Matthew Ellis, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Staffordshire
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