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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

Criminal Justice & substance misuse expert and author of this blog.

Police, Camera, Action!

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Police all over the world are currently trialling wearable body cameras. Typically, cameras are worn on patrol and record high definition footage which is transmitted wirelessly to a central database. Currently, the video cameras are worn openly and are attached to uniforms, sunglasses or even hats. They have a number of possible benefits...

Body cameras

As regular readers will know, I’m a big advocate of police use of social media.

For me, the primary benefit of tweeting cops (iPlods) is the way that social media can help humanise the police and break down barriers between officers and the communities they serve.

This post looks at another technical advance that enables a closer relationship between police and public – wearable body cameras.

 

police camera

 

A global trend

Police all over the world are currently trialling wearable body cameras.

In the UK, both Hampshire and Sussex forces are trying them out.

So are forces in Calgary and Edmonton, Canada and Rialto, California.

Typically, cameras are worn on patrol and record high definition footage which is transmitted wirelessly to a central database.

Currently, the video cameras are worn openly and are attached to uniforms, sunglasses or even hats.

They have a number of possible benefits:

  • Record events requiring pursuit and/or use of force, away from a police vehicle;
  • Objective representation of events;
  • Make investigations more efficient and timely;
  • Reduce hostility;
  • Reduce complaints from citizens; and
  • Provide evidence to support prosecutions.

Safer for everyone

The pilot in Rialto, California was evaluated with interesting results.

The (American) Police Foundation conducted a study which randomly assigned officers to either the experiment group (they used the cameras) or the control group (they didn’t).

The findings were revealing.

Officers wearing the cameras only used force to respond to subjects who were “clearly seen to be physically-abusive or to [be] physically resisting arrest”.

Officers not wearing the cameras resorted to using force without being physically threatened, 30% of the time.

During the year of the study, complaints against Rialto police officers reduced by 88% compared to the previous year.

Presumably this was due to a combination of officers being “better behaved” because they were wearing the cameras, and those who wanted to make false complaints being deterred since their own actions were recorded.

You can read the full report here.

It seems to me that body cameras could encourage both officers and members of the police to be on their best behaviour.

So should they become a staple tool for 21st century policing?

Please let me know your views via the comments section below.

 

 

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