I was interviewed on BBC Radio 5Live today about the Metropolitan Police’s decision to pilot a scheme in which 500 front line officers will wear body cameras.
You can hear the interview here:
Body camera debate
There is considerable debate about the use of body cameras, which is not surprising given that the trial, if extended, will ultimately result in 10,000 to 20,000 Metropolitan Police officers using the cameras, with many more around the UK following suit.
In my opinion, such cameras have the potential to be crucial in re-establishing public confidence in the police. They can help members of the public in their fight against police misconduct and at the same time help the police reduce the number of complaints and police abuse claims made against them.
But the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, has said that such cameras will not be permanently switched on and that officers will be able to turn them on and off as they choose.
If this is allowed the body cameras’ role in providing a much-needed check and balance against abuse of police powers will be lost.
Many reasons why continuous recording will never happen have been put forward (Human Rights, employment regulations, and so on) but unless the deployment of such cameras is not subject to stringent guidelines, their effectiveness will be limited.
I would suggest a mandatory rule that such cameras must be turned on during any interaction with the public. If an officer fails to do so, not only should disciplinary action be taken when it is established that the camera was not deployed, but any footage obtained should be excluded from being used as evidence. This would have the desired effect of putting pressure on the police officers on the beat (and their superiors) to ensure that the cameras are routinely used.
As with any new habit, a ‘carrot and stick’ approach would help. The ‘carrot’ is ensuring that the difficult job of being a front line police officer is supported by impartial and contemporary evidence from a video camera. The ‘stick’ reminder of the threat of disciplinary action or a failed prosecution will help to ensure compliance.
Political motive for body cameras?
Unless and until such guidance is issued, the deployment of these cameras is little more than a political quick fix to try to restore public confidence.
What is really required is a change of culture where all police forces adopt a robust complaints system that is open and transparent and where police officers are held to account. The use of body cameras would go some way to providing the transparency required, but without a system of continuous use when interacting with the public, the Metropolitan Police’s motives could be seen as suspiciously self-serving.
If you have a police abuse claim and want legal help, contact me, Iain Gould, using the online form below, on 0151 933 5525, or via my firm’s website.
Image credit: West Midlands Police on flickr.