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Body-Worn Cameras and the Police – What Effect do they Have?

Modern Policing – Lights, Camera, Action

Police forces across England and Wales are preparing for a rollout of ‘Body-worn Cameras’ or Bodycams.  The government has announced that prison officers will shortly be assisted by this new technology as well.

What are Body-worn Cameras?

police body-worn cameras crime solicitorsBody-worn cameras (BWCs) are small recording devices, very similar to a GoPro, which allows for constant audio and video recording in an unobtrusive manner.

The evidence from these cameras can be used to support a prosecution.  Some argue that with officers and others aware that their actions could be caught on camera it should result in a positive effect on the behaviour of both the public and the police.

Is behaviour calmed when a camera is present?

It might be generally accepted that we behave better when being watched.  For example, we are less likely to speed past a roadside camera or get involved in unlawful activity if we know we are being observed by CCTV.

In 2011, researchers at Newcastle University posted pictures of a pair of male eyes and the caption, “Cycle Thieves: We Are Watching You.” Bike thefts decreased by 62 percent in those locations.  They remained the same elsewhere.

A study in Rialto, California (USA) in 2012 appeared to show dramatic changes in police behaviour as well following the use of body-worn cameras. Complaints against police officers were down 90% compared to the previous year. Some critics, however, have been sceptical of this study.  In part this was because only fifty-four officers participated.

That caution did not result in a slowdown of the deployment of body-worn cameras.  By 2015 95% of US large police departments had deployed BWC or had committed to doing so.

Now, police forces in England and Wales are following suit.

Latest research

The Rialto findings seemed to accord with common sense, but a new eighteen month study of more than 2000 police officers in Washington (USA) was published on 20th October.  This disclosed ‘almost no effect’ on police officer behaviour.

Are BWCs a waste of money then?

This is a controversial question, and there may be many reasons for the Washington findings.

Other arguable benefits of BWCs are:

  • Detecting rogue officer behaviour after the event
  • Accurate recording of evidence
  • Building community trust in the police

Another new study will be published in the November 2017 issue of the Policing journal.  In this research 249 people were interviewed.  They had had recent encounters with officers wearing cameras. Those who were aware of the cameras perceived the encounters as more “just” than those who were not.

Conclusion

It would appear that the jury remains out as to the effect of Body-Worn Cameras by the police.  Supporters claim that there are definite benefits for both the police and the public.  Detractors cite privacy concerns, sizeable public expenditure to fund the cameras and a lack of evidence to support their continued deployment.

What is clear to us is that we see the evidential worth of cameras in an increasing number of cases. Such evidence must, however, be analysed carefully.  It would be wrong to believe that ‘the camera never lies’. We often find that video evidence is taken out of context.  It can be distorted.  On occasions when it might be thought to be helpful to the defence it can go missing.

Contact a criminal defence specialist to discuss these issues

We have recent experience of dealing with cases where the footage from Body-worn cameras was decisive in putting forward our clients’ defences.

In this case, a jury was only out considering its verdict for five minutes before deciding that our client was not guilty.

Here, the footage was helpful in persuading the prosecution that the final account given by the complainant should not be relied upon.  The case was dropped.

If you face criminal proceedings you will want to instruct a criminal defence lawyer who will ensure that evidence such as bodycam footage is analysed and deployed effectively in your defence.

police body-worn cameras legal advice

We have offices across the East Midlands in Nottingham, Derby, Chesterfield, Mansfield, Ilkeston and Newark.  All of our office numbers can be telephoned 24 hours a day 7 days a week to ensure free and independent legal advice is given to those detained in a police station.

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