Caught on camera

Helmet-cams are significantly improving the quality of evidence provided by police officers and increasing the proportion of offenders brought to justice.

Jun 4, 2009
By Paul Jacques
Left to right: Kay Dargue, head of South Tees Youth Justice Service, PCC Matt Storey and Chief Inspector John Dodsworth.

Helmet-cams are significantly improving the quality of evidence provided by police officers and increasing the proportion of offenders brought to justice.

In July 2007, the Home Office announced a £3 million funding package to equip officers in police forces across England and Wales with ‘helmet-cams’ – small video cameras mounted to the side of an officer’s helmet with the ability to record video and sound.
The decision to adopt the helmet-cam technology followed small-scale trials in Plymouth by Devon and Cornwall Constabulary, which used the head-mounted video system to improve the quality of evidence provided by officers who attended domestic violence incidents.
A wider trial involving 300 trained officers using 50 cameras in as many operational situations as possible followed. Arrests for violent crime soared by 85 per cent in the Plymouth area where the police were trialling the helmet cams.
The helmet-cam had significant advantages over hand-held video systems. Officers did not need the support of a minder to use the equipment, both hands remained free and their peripheral vision was not hindered when they used the camera.
The then Policing Minister, Tony McNulty, said the cameras could significantly improve the quality of evidence provided by police officers and increase the proportion of offenders brought to justice.
Sussex Police was among the first forces to take up the offer of funding, trialling 80 cameras across four districts.
Sergeant Russ Philips of Sussex Police very quickly realised how powerful a device the cameras were. “At first, our officers were reluctant to use them – thinking it was ‘Big Brother’ watching them and their police work – but when they saw the power of the filmed footage they realised how beneficial it can be in gathering evidence.”
At the start of each shift, the officer records their name on film and then turns on the camera every time they encounter an incident. They don’t record everything, but use the camera as they would their pocket notebook.
When the officer gets back to the station at the end of the shift, instead of writing up pages and pages of notes, they simply refer to the file number of the camera footage, requiring only minimal note-taking.
Footage taken from a helmet-cam can be used in court as evidence. It is far more powerful than a written statement and isn’t as open to interpretation as a written statement could be. The magistrate is left in no doubt about what happened and can pass sentence accordingly.
The public has the right to view the footage, so it is kept for 31 days, after which time it is destroyed – the view being that if anyone wants to see the footage of themselves they will come in within a month of being recorded. If, however, footage is required for evidence then it can be kept for seven years and even longer in certain cases.

Fast and secure file storage
The helmet cameras record footage to SD cards. When they were first introduced, the footage from the SD cards had to be burned to DVD because it could not be stored on a PC or server, as it ran the risk of being tampered with, which would compromise its integrity. This was time consuming and there were many stages in the process where errors could creep in. It also proved costly as the DVDs would be thrown away after 31 days.
Sgt Phillips realised there must be a better way of storing and viewing the video data and started looking into various options.
He discovered the Epson P-5000 Photo Viewer – a solution usually suited to professional photographers. “The speed is really impressive compared to downloading a DVD”, said Sgt Phillips. “And I’ve never had to look at the instruction booklet – it really is that easy to use and with 80Gb of memory there are no concerns about it running out of space.”
It also features bit-for-bit copy so that the files are not compressed or altered, which is essential for giving a transparent evidence trail.
Sgt Phillips now has a procedure in place whereby each camera SD card is n

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