Should police body cams be compulsory?

from our earlier discussion around Black Lives matter, we identified a possible campaign around the police’s use of Body Worn Video.

West Midlands Police first to live stream body camera footage E & S, 18 July 2022

West Midlands Police has become the first in the country to switch on body camera live streaming technology, allowing officers to remotely view another officer’s body cam.  When the upgraded cameras are in record mode, anyone with a valid operational reason can see that footage in real time, giving officers greater protection and extra support.  Police say the technology has been tested across different scenarios, such as football matches and protests, with very positive feedback.  Officers say the benefits from the function includes being able to get quicker instructions from supervisors, and commanding officers are able to deploy more resources faster if they can see a situation warrants it.  Last year, shocking bodycam footage was released showing the moment a pair of brothers pulled knives on two police officers and attacked them in front of horrified shoppers at New Square Shopping Centre in West Bromwich.

This new technology may allow other officers to see the escalation of such an incident immediately and act accordingly.  Chief Superintendent Ian Green said:  “This technology has many advantages, not least in increasing officer safety.  It gives us a real time view of what officers are facing so we can deploy assistance where needed, or advise officers at scenes on preserving evidence or dealing with someone in mental health crisis.  We are able to map every officer with a camera and see which ones are recording, but there are strict rules that we will adhere to when choosing to live-stream.  The system is completely auditable and will be monitored for any unauthorised use.  We’ve been consulting with our communities and partners so they are fully aware of us now having the ability to live stream in public areas. We have carried out extensive consultation, and over 90 per cent of people told us they strongly agreed with us being able to use this new function.”

The new cameras will be used by public-facing officers, but police say they will not be seen as a replacement for attending scenes and at this stage will not be used for any independent scrutiny around use of force or stop and search.


Since, in the West Midlands in 2020

Police body cams were used in 66% of stop and searches (when mandatory)

yet 98% stop and search reports are signed off as adequate

So a third are signed off without the mandatory body cam evidence

video made from the discussion at our September 2020 delegate meeting

Delegates have had a further discussion and agreed that we believe Body Worn Video (BWV) should record all interactions with the public and other agencies that deal with the police, not at the discretion of officers. We feel that this would make the police more likely to treat the public decently and equitably. It would also be evidence if any officers mistreat or act in a racially biased way.

Our Wolverhampton TUC discussion around #BlackLivesMatter identified that WMP officers have access to the latest body worn video cameras but only use them when they feel the need for the camera to be in use

Research due to be published Oct 2020 by University of Warwick In collaboration with West Midlands Police, may evidence our claims – The impact of body worn video (BWV) on stop and search in England and Wales. This research will test the hypothesis that BWV can provide greater visibility of stop and search encounters, thereby providing an opportunity to reduce some of the problems associated with stop and search. BWV footage can help us understand why stop and search encounters are racially disproportionate and may have an impact upon the selection of citizens for stop and search. It is suggested that the civilising effect which BWV may have, may encourage officers to conduct stop and searches in a more procedurally just manner, thereby potentially strengthening public confidence in the police and police legitimacy.

Body Cams have been shown to reduce complaints against police and prove useful in convictions/early pleas, saving money. Use of body-worn cameras sees complaints against police ‘virtually vanish’, Cambridge University study finds

see also:

West Midlands Police ‘disproportionately more likely’ to use force against black people (The report also found a black person was 6.7 times more likely to be stopped and searched under Section 60 rules – where an area has been defined for searches.)

West Midlands 2020 – Despite the force mandating use of body-worn video in all use of force incidents, stop and search, domestic incidents and mental health unit calls; cameras were used in (77%) of documented use of force incidents, and (66%) of stop and searches.

Testing the effect of BWV in the WMP: Randomised Control Trial in Wolverhampton & Birmingham 2015 link on page to full research

FOI request re body cams 2020

Police officers should be required to keep their body cameras running during nearly all interactions with the public—including even “consensual” encounters, recommends an article in Columbia University’s Journal of Race & Law.

College of Policing 2014 advice on use of BWV

Principle 3 “…..Under normal circumstances, officers should not use BWV in private dwellings.”

Principle 4 “The operational use of body-worn video must be proportionate, legitimate and necessary. Compliance with the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA), Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) and Surveillance Camera Code of Practice will ensure the use of BWV is always proportionate, legitimate and necessary. Continuous, non-specific recording is not permitted”

Principle 5 “Use of body-worn video will be incident specific. Officers will use common sense and sound judgement when using body-worn video, in support of the principles of best evidence.”

“The decision to record or not to record an incident rests with the user. However, users should record incidents whenever they invoke a police power.”

Example of police authority procedure

Government (2019) made it compulsory for bailiffs to use BWV. “People in debt will be given greater protection from rogue bailiffs as the government announced the introduction of compulsory body-worn cameras.”

IPCC position statement on body worn video

very limited info on west midlands police website “The video cameras … are constantly capturing the action, … when officers feel they need the camera to be in use, a press of a button will activate the technology and save the previous 30 seconds of visual footage.”

However we must be careful not to sleepwalk into giving the police yet another tool of oppression. Implementing the widespread use of such technology before passing legislation to safeguard privacy interests may, for example, result in storage policies that prevent the footage from being used in the public interest. A number of policies could be implemented to achieve this effect.

For one, officers should not be given discretion over when a camera is and is not recording, to ensure that events cannot be taken out of context. If the body camera agency observes that an officer has been obscuring or otherwise tampering with their body camera, the officer should be disciplined.

Second, control of the videos recorded by these cameras must be retained by a civil, rather than a police body, a “body camera agency,” completely separate from the police force. Individuals who have been recorded by the police should be entitled to obtain any recordings made of them by the police, and without the police being notified.

This agency should not provide the police with any video or metadata collected from body cameras in order to prevent the police from engaging in pervasive surveillance.

This paper explores the rapid deployment of police body-worn cameras (BWCs) and the subsequent push for the integration of biometric technologies (i.e., facial recognition) into these devices.

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