Since I took up post as Surveillance Camera Commissioner nearly 3 years ago technology has moved forward at an incredible pace – particularly when I think about body worn video. When I took up post some police forces were starting to trial this kit – fast forward 3 years and those trials have finished and we have large forces like Greater Manchester and the Metropolitan police rolling it out to all front line officers.
Police use of body worn video
Many forces have been pragmatic in their roll out of body worn video – hence the pilots and trials – carefully looking at the effects of the cameras. They are more intrusive than CCTV – they are usually worn on the lapel, so literally in your face and they record audio as well as video. Some research the Met carried out was quite startling – 33% reduction in allegations against officers, allegations of oppressive behaviour are 2.6 times more likely without body worn video, 90% of Londoners believe it will ensure officers follow correct procedures.
As forces have been trialling and rolling out this kit many have consulted me and my office so they ensure they are complying with the surveillance camera code of practice – which they are legally required to. In fact some are considering applying for my certification. This demonstrates a willingness to ensure that deployment of this kit is done effectively, efficiently and proportionately. That whilst forces see the benefits in terms of evidence gathering they also completely get that this should not be at the price of an individual’s right to privacy.
Others using body worn video
But as the police have embraced this technology so have others and it's not clear if they have done the same rigorous testing as the police. I know of local authorities (who must comply with the code) equipping their civil enforcement officers with body worn video – they work in roles where they are sometimes the subject of physical or verbal abuse. They use the cameras to record incidents if they feel threatened – my office worked with the South Essex Parking Partnership when they equipped their parking enforcement officers with cameras. All done in line with the code.
But it does trouble me when I read stories in the press about enforcement officers using body worn video to catch people dropping litter and fining them – not what they are deployed for. Public support for this technology will quickly wane if they think they are being spied on or caught out by cameras.
We’re also seeing body worn video deployed in hospitals – mainly for security staff in A&E departments. There were around 68,000 physical assaults on hospital staff in 2014/15 so you can see the rationale behind using cameras. Although, when people are in hospital, particularly A&E, they are often at there most vulnerable or distressed.
Are these security guards going into treatment areas with cameras switched on perhaps recording a violent incident but also recording everything else going on around them – someone being resuscitated for instance? That I’m not clear on and the NHS are not on the list of relevant authorities who must pay due regard to the code.
So, body worn video is a tool that can provide great benefits with regard to gathering evidence. However it is an invasive surveillance tool and must not be used without due regard to an individual’s privacy, the sensitive location of its use and proper recognition of legal and regulatory guidelines – please follow the Code!