Earlier this evening I attended Cambridge’s South Area Committee in the British Legion Hall on Fisher Lane in Cherry Hinton. When the police attend area committee meetings the public are able to ask questions and make suggestions before councillors set the local policing priorities. I think this local democratic influence over policing is fantastic, but is underused by Liberal Democrat councillors.
I was the only member of the public to ask a question of the police. I asked about an announcement made the week before that some police officers and PCSOs in Cambridge are to be wearing video cameras mounted on their heads. I explained that I am in favour of giving the police tools and technology to enable them to fulfil their role effectively, but that I was concerned than in this case the necessary safeguards to ensure the cameras were used reasonably and proportionately were not in place. I reminded Steve Kerridge, sector inspector for Cambridge city, that almost a year ago, during the trial of Cambridge police wearing video cameras, I had attended an area committee and asked if safeguards were in place but had not received a response. The trial period ended earlier in the year and now cameras are to be worn carried as a matter of routine. I said I was concerned that whereas in other police forces where police wear cameras a commitment to follow Home Office guidelines has been made no such commitment has been made in Cambridge.
I illustrated the kinds of safeguards that have been put in place elsewhere by asking if an officer wearing a camera in Cambridge would face disciplinary action if he turned away from and failed to record a scuffle between a police officer and a member of the public. I also asked if officers had the ability to turn their cameras on and off, and if they could delete footage they had recorded. Another question I asked was how statements made by members of the public made immediately after an event and recorded on video in the street would be treated, both by the police and by the courts.
Over the Christmas and new year period last year police officers with cameras were used to police the city centre nightlife. The recent press release said that both real police officers and PCSOs would be wearing the cameras, which would be used throughout the city. I asked why there was a need for PCSOs in the suburbs of Cambridge to be wearing video cameras.
Further questions I could have asked include: Will officers alert people they talk to about the fact they are being recorded? Will police officers keep the cameras running if they are invited into someone’s home? Will the footage find its way to Police Camera Action or similar entertainment shows?
Inspector Steve Kerridge replied to say a couple of his team of neighborhood police officers had been trained to use the cameras. He said that no PCSOs had been trained to use the cameras and gave a categoric assurance that none would be. He stated that evidence gathering was not part of the role of a PCSO, and only “warranted officers” would be using the cameras. He went further, and speaking quite passionately, said there had not even been any discussion of the possibility that PCSOs would wear the video cameras and said PCSOs wearing video cameras was not on the agenda for Cambridge City. Inspector Kerridge’s statement that PCSOs would not be wearing cameras is directly contradicted by the police press release announcing the intention to deploy cameras which includes a quote from Inspector Ian Lyons saying:
… training has been rolled out to reactive officers, neighbourhood officers, PCSOs and soon to be trained are Special Constables.
As he did about eleven months previously, again Inspector Kerridge promised to pass my question regarding policy and safeguards on to someone who could answer it. He said the police would get back to me, or if they were interested, he offered to respond to the councillors on the committee as well.
Not one of the councillors on the committee expressed any interest in the subject police wearing cameras without published safeguards. None said anything on the matter.
- Police to Wear Cameras in Cambridge – December 2008
- Police patrol in headcams to log drunken behaviour Cambridge News, November 2009.