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September 27th 2017

Civil Liberties

Body cameras must not be used selectively by frontline police officers as there needs to be consistency in their use to gather evidence

Vicky Richardson

Vicky Richardson

Manager, Civil Liberties

Body cameras must not be used selectively by frontline police officers as there needs to be consistency in their use to gather evidence

It will be interesting to see exactly how Humberside Police manages the use of body worn cameras having announced plans to buy 1,500 and kit out frontline officers across the force area.

It will be interesting to see exactly how Humberside Police manages the use of body worn cameras having announced plans to buy 1,500 and kit out frontline officers across the force area.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) called on chief constables across the UK to prioritise the roll-out of such body-worn video cameras earlier this year, and there can be no doubt that the increased use of video footage could be a huge step forward.

Their success has already been demonstrated in trials, both in helping manage and calm down people in potentially volatile situations and with regard to reducing allegations made against officers themselves.

Indeed, The College of Policing has published findings from a trial with the Metropolitan Police which found there to be a 33 per cent reduction in allegations against officers when wearing cameras, and no negative impact on officer safety and use of force.

With officers giving a verbal warning that they are wearing a camera which is recording, many feel that in itself helps to cool an escalating situation down.

Humberside Police has highlighted cases of domestic abuse as being one area in which cameras can help, saying key evidence can be recorded when responding to emergency calls from victims or witnesses, using them to record vital evidence, including initial accounts from all involved, and often capturing images of any injuries sustained.

Such evidence would certainly be very strong when submitted to the Crown Prosecution Service – strong evidence which perhaps is missed on many occasions when officers do not have video facilities to hand.

Policy is keen in ensuring video evidence is captured consistently by officers

As a specialist in handling legal cases on behalf of members of the public who allege police misconduct at forces across England and Wales, such as officers using excessive force and causing injuries, I see many cases where the lack of real independent evidence – the type video footage can provide – is frustrating.

Too often cases become one person’s word against another, leaving many of our clients feeling they have been the victims not only of police misconduct, but also of forces closing ranks and protecting one another when serious questions are asked over their conduct.

Video footage can not only lead to officers being found guilty of misconduct, but also importantly could often exonerate them from any suggestion of wrongdoing.

With that in mind, it is key that officers are given strict guidance and policies as to which situations a body camera should be used.

In our experience of dealing with cases involving forces already using body cameras, there is rarely any issue over the equipment nor the footage captured, but the lack of a clear policy being established and followed as to when the cameras should be used.

We’ve investigated cases where a police officer has been involved in an incident where allegations have been made, but for whatever reason, the officer involved has taken the decision at some stage not to use the video recording facilities available to them.

In these situations, such a decision can seem puzzling, and only lead to further questions being asked.

Body cameras cannot be used in a selective manner. They need to be used in an effective way, with front line officers clear as to when they need to operate them as they are called to each and every job.

If that is not the case, the danger is we’ll be asking questions as to why officers are being selective over when or when not to capture one of the only forms of evidence that it is almost impossible to dispute.

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