Using body-worn cameras to build public confidence

The debate over whether all police officers should wear a body-worn video (BWV) camera is gathering pace on both sides of the Atlantic. In the US, supporters say turning every officer into a cameraman can cut down on civilian complaints and excessive force. Here, former Shadow Home Secretary David Davis last week suggested all police officers should wear cameras and microphones routinely to record their actions to help rebuild public trust.

Oct 30, 2013
By Paul Jacques
DCC Russ Foster

The debate over whether all police officers should wear a body-worn video (BWV) camera is gathering pace on both sides of the Atlantic.

In the US, supporters say turning every officer into a cameraman can cut down on civilian complaints and excessive force. Here, former Shadow Home Secretary David Davis last week suggested all police officers should wear cameras and microphones routinely to record their actions to help rebuild public trust.

Amidst the fall-out from Pleb-gate, he wrote in The Times that there was a “crisis of ethics” in the service and that this controversial move would help rebuild a “decline in public trust”.

“When they tried this [wearing cameras] in California, use of force by police officers dropped by two-thirds in a year. This technology could also help to defend police officers who have vexatious claims made against them,” wrote Mr Davis.

When a New York judge found that the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) stop and frisk tactics violated the constitutional rights of New Yorkers, one of the remedies she ordered was for the department to begin testing body-worn cameras.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), one of the largest law enforcement departments in the US, is looking to equip all its frontline officers with BWV cameras. According to The Los Angeles Times, the LAPD, which employs about 10,000 officers, paid out $24,154,957 in settlements related to civil rights violations or traffic accidents in 2011, which means there is “a financial incentive to have its officers use BWV cameras”.

A pilot study conducted in the 66-officer police department in nearby Rialto, California, found that complaints against police officers dropped 88 per cent and use of force by an officer dropped by almost 60 per cent after instituting body-worn cameras, according to The New York Times.

In Israel there have been calls for a Bill to be passed that would require police officers to wear body-worn cameras for a one-year trial period in an effort to reduce ‘use of force incidents’ and false complaints against officers.

In an interview on LBC radio following Mr Davis’ comments, Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe said he agreed in principle with equipping all officers with BWV cameras.

“I’ve been to America and they’re having the same debate – should they give all their officers video cameras – so I think in principle it’s good, it makes you open, it makes you accountable and if something’s said afterwards, you can check.

“[But] there are issues of logistics; if officers all day, every day are using cameras, that is a huge amount of data, you’ve got to store it and it costs money.”

The MPS has deployed BWV cameras to varying degrees in eight boroughs, primarily for use in domestic violence incidents, and is about to launch a new pilot involving 400 officers wearing the cameras.

Mayor of London Boris Johnson said he was “totally in favour” of the use of BWV cameras by MPS officers.

He told the London Assembly last week: “I can think of lots of occasions, notably recent ones, where the use of body-worn cameras would obviate any future confusion about what might or might not have taken place between individuals and the police. I think it’s a thoroughly good idea.”

Striking a balance

In a policy paper published earlier this month – Police Body-Mounted Cameras: With Right Policies in Place, a Win For All – the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said “purely from an accountability perspective, the ideal policy for body-worn cameras would be for continuous recording throughout a police officer’s shift”.

Report author Jay Stanley, ACLU senior policy analyst, said this would eliminate any possibility that an officer could evade the recording of abuses committed on duty.

“Of course, just as body cameras can invade the privacy of many innocent citizens, continuous deployment would similarly impinge on police officers,” he added.

“There is also the danger that the technology would be misused by police supervi

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