It has been reported that from Monday the 22nd of December 2008 Police in Cambridge will start wearing video cameras.
My initial reaction to this was to ask why the public have not been told about this proposed development. Why has it not been before Area Committees where members of the public and councillors would be given the opportunity to ask questions and seek reassurances from the Police? I also questioned if the Police Authority had given its approval to the depolyment (it certainly didn’t discuss it at last Wednesday’s meeting which I attended).
I am writing this post on the basis of very sparse information. It is entirely possible that the police are planning to use these cameras in an entirely reasonable and proportionate manner. I doubt anyone would mind if, for example, police officers conducting a drugs raid on a house wore cameras to collect footage which could be used both for training and to provide evidence. Video cameras in police cars are also commonly accepted. With good levels of visibility and awareness I can also see how such cameras might act as a deterrent to violent behaviour in a city centre on a Friday and Saturday night.
Every police officer wearing a hidden camera and microphone though would be another quite significant step towards a “big brother” state.
We have unnecessary secrecy from the police; they should be more open and be prepared to engage with the public when they are making significant changes such as introducing wearable cameras to our streets. If they had been upfront about what they were proposing they might have been able to gain public support more easily. I hope Cambridgeshire follow Durham Police’s example and explain how the cameras are to be used.
People might be put off speaking to police officers if they think that a video record of their conversation is going to be made.
The introduction of Head Cams, or “Body Worn Video” as the police call it, to Cambridgeshire was announced in August 2007, it is now about to happen.
During a trial of police wearing head-cams in Devon and Cornwall cameras worth £1,700 each were used. Officers were required to wear a sign and announce: “I am video recording you.” The cameras were not to be worn during general patrolling, and images not to be used in evidence deleted after 31 days. We do not yet know if these safeguards will apply when cameras are introduced to Cambridge in a few weeks time.
Home Office interim guidance released following the Devon and Cornwall trial is available online. This guidance does not appear to be being followed in Cambridge as it states that “Before any use of Body Worn Video, ensure that a series of ‘fair processing notices’ are utilised locally; for example: local community-based forums to advise residents of the use of this technology.”
Any guidance from the Association of Chief Police officers which is available on the use of Body Worn Video does not appear to be publicly accessible.
Further questions I would like to see answered before the deployment of these cameras in Cambridge include:
- How overt will the cameras be?
- Which police officers will be wearing them, and when?
- Will the footage end up on shows like “Cops with Cameras”
- How were the public, their elected representatives, and the Police Authority consulted and informed about this development?
- Will the cameras record all the time, or will officers be able to turn them off (when they enter people’s homes for example)?
- Will officers be able to delete footage they have taken?
- How will “first statements” made to the cameras by witnesses be used, will they have time to reflect on their, possibly traumatic experiences, before making a statement for use in court?
- How will statements made by people who accidently incriminate themselves infront of these cameras, in a way they might not have done in an interview room in a police station, be treated?
I think head-cams for the police are a great idea, I am in favour of giving the police tools and technology to enable them to fulfil their role more effectively. The way the police use their equipment has to, like everything else they do, be kept in check by appropriate safeguards. We all need these safeguards in place to ensure the police retain the respect and credibility they require to do their jobs and ensure everyone they deal with is treated fairly and justly.