Caught on camera

When the then Home Office Minister Tony McNulty pledged £3 million in
July 2007 to fund a national rollout of body-worn video (BWV) cameras,
it gave police forces across England and Wales the chance to lead the
world in the use of this hi-tech equipment.

Jan 28, 2010
By Paul Jacques

When the then Home Office Minister Tony McNulty pledged £3 million in July 2007 to fund a national rollout of body-worn video (BWV) cameras, it gave police forces across England and Wales the chance to lead the world in the use of this hi-tech equipment.

It is generally agreed that the use of body-worn video (BWV) cameras has the potential to improve significantly the quality of evidence provided by police officers in the drive to reduce crime, the fear of crime and increase the proportion of offenders brought to justice.

Indeed, results have shown that individuals under arrest have been more likely to plead guilty at an early stage in the justice process when confronted with the clear recorded evidence of their actions, saving signi?cant time for all sectors.

A video recording from the scene of an incident will capture compelling evidence of the activities of suspects and enable the raw emotion and action from the scene to be replayed in the courts in a manner that could never be captured in written statements

The funding for a national rollout of video camera technology followed an independent evaluation of a pilot project in Plymouth by Devon and Cornwall Constabulary.

Plymouth basic command unit (BCU) commenced an extended use trial in October 2006, with 50 head-mounted cameras being used in as many operational situations as possible by the 300 trained staff in three sectors of the BCU. Other forces across the UK also commenced small-scale use of the system.

The report showed that use of BWV devices led to an increase in the proportion of crimes where the offender was brought to justice compared with incidents where the cameras were not used.
The Home Office identified the most effective practice in the use of this technology and published guidance for forces – Guidance for the police use of body-worn video devices – to standardise practices in the use of the technology.

The Home Office guidance predicted a 22.4 per cent reduction in officer time spent on paperwork and file preparation as a result of this new technology. Footage can be used as a piece of supporting evidence in court, significantly improving the quality of the evidence provided by police officers at incidents and resulting in guilty pleas that will save court time. The report also stated that body-worn cameras have a proven calming effect and resulted in a reduction in the number of violent crimes.

In the UK, all 43 forces now use BWV to a greater or lesser degree. Kent Police is considered to have the largest implementation of BWV in the UK in its Northern Division. More than 100 units are in use by officers on a daily basis, and this number is likely to increase to more than 300 in the coming months.

Britain was not the first country to use such devices – similar versions were tested in Copenhagen, Denmark at around the same time as the Devon and Cornwall pilot – but the national rollout has extended Britain’s web of video surveillance to the most extensive in the world.

Privacy concerns

Privacy is the main concern in the use of BWV cameras. Although widely accepted in Europe, privacy concerns prevail in the US, and while many US police departments are testing the technology, large-scale deployments are few, hindered by these privacy issues and budget constraints.

In New York, a massive expansion of the ‘Ring of Steel’ surveillance system being developed in lower Manhattan – modelled on London’s ‘Ring of Steel’ surveillance network – has already seen privacy concerns raised by the New York Civil Liberties Union, and that’s before BWV is put into the equation.

Even when the British national rollout of BWV was announced, the organisation Human Rights Watch expressed concern that “the privacy questions raised by the plan will turn on whether the safeguards, including on notification and storage, are uniformly respected”.

In Europe, the technology falls under the same regul

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