April 20 2024
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Public support for police body cameras – but who controls on/off switch?

Public support for police body cameras – but who controls on/off switch?

There was overwhelming support from the public for the police being kitted out with mandatory body cameras despite concerns from some civil liberties groups. Some 90% of respondents answered “yes” to the JusticeGap poll to the question: Should the police have to wear body cameras (HERE)?

There was a similar level of support in research carried out by Hampshire police which found that nine out of 10 members of the public backed the roll out of so-called body worn video (BWV) cameras in the force by the end of this year.

  • You can read Simon Chesterman HERE on ‘cops with cameras’

‘Agents of the state fitted with mobile CCTV has a slightly Orwellian feel to it, how long will it be before these commentators are expressing concerns about the police habitually filming encounters with citizens?’
Simon Chesterman, Deputy Chief Constable of West Mercia Police.

National guidelines as to the use of BWV cameras are to be released towards the end of this month outlining strict rules for police to follow when filming the public. Hampshire’s chief constable, Andy Marsh is the national policing lead in England and Wales for body worn video for the College of Policing and the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO).

In an interview with the JusticeGap, Marsh acknowledged public concern about the technology’s “Big Brother aspects” – “that’s why we’ve taken such measures in creating the guidance to actually put in a requirement for an officer to say that it’s being recorded”. “The BWV itself is very visible and when it’s switched on there is a flashing light and people will see their own image for 30 seconds so apart from being given a notice, it’s absolutely obvious,” Marsh explained.

“We need to have clear guidelines about the usage of the data, we need to know how it’s retained and who has access to it – and how it’s deleted and destroyed – before we move forward to all officers having cameras,” said Sophie Khan, legal director of the Police Action Centre; adding that there was “a potential” for infringements of the article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Cameras might prove helpful in some incidents such as domestic violence, Khan argued; but she did not see the need for the technology in front-line policing.

Andy Marsh argued that the benefits for cameras in policing were in the early stages: quicker justice, earlier guilty pleas, earlier admissions, and more appropriate sentencing by the courts.

Despite figures showing a strong support from the public, concerns have also been raised over officers’ powers to switch the cameras on/off in what is described as ‘incident specific’ filming.

“I think that this footage cannot be used as evidence as a whole, especially when it is the police that decide when and where they tape the footage. You only get part of the picture.”
Emma Carr, Deputy Director of the Big Brother Watch.

“The police should be recording every single interaction with the public and it should be made a very serious disciplinary and perhaps even a very serious criminal offence for an officer to pervert the technology so that, at any particular time, the camera is switched off or the footage is missing.”
Sean Gabb, Director of the Libertarian Alliance.