Body Worn Cameras – Proper Evidence Needed

Big Brother Watch Team / October 17, 2016

From today the Metropolitan Police will begin equipping their frontline officers with body-worn cameras. The roll-out is planned to be completed by next summer when 22,000 cameras will be have been issued.

Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the force’s Commissioner praised the positive impact of the technology:

It holds us to account, because if the officer does a great job we will capture that and if they don’t do a good job we should capture that.

What we found in the pilot is they capture really powerful evidence which leads to more guilty pleas. It’s led to less complaints and generally the public have accepted it.

Better conviction rates and more transparency are good things, but the actual impact of body worn cameras is far from certain. Conflicting studies into the technology have left a picture of confusion which needs to be resolved before the streets are flooded with the technology.

In May 2016 a study by the Institute of Criminology at the University of Cambridge found that the number of assaults against officers was on average 15% higher when they wore body worn cameras. The report couldn’t offer a concrete reason for this. The reasons ought to be clarified, not least because their first, often quoted study into body worn video found that:

Evidence capture is just one output of body-worn video, and the technology is perhaps most effective at actually preventing escalation during police-public interactions: whether that’s abusive behaviour towards police or unnecessary use-of-force by police.”

In September the department published another study. This time their research found that when officers were equipped with body worn cameras the number of complaints dropped by 93%. This sounds like a promising figure, but it is unclear how well it can be related to the Met’s scheme. Officers in the trial recorded continuously whilst those using them at the Met will record at their own discretion.

Whilst it is clear that body worn cameras may well have a role to play in modern policing, these studies demonstrate that role is far from clear. With such mixed messages being revealed by the studies how these cameras will help the police will be hard to tell. The Met must release statistics relating to this roll-out showing how the cameras are impacting levels of aggression, whether they are contributing to quicker conviction times and if they are in fact making policing more transparent.