Feature

Cops with body-worn cameras: the future of policing?

By Oliver Smith 28 May 2015
Policeman with body camera, which will revolutionise the future of policing.
Summary

British police are arming up with personal video cameras that mark the next frontier of policing and promise to cut crime on our streets by 10%.

By next year 1 in every 5 police officers in the UK will be recording every single interaction they have with a member of the public. Millions of hours of high definition video and audio collected every week from police on the streets of Britain.

It’s a new technology which promises to boost the effectiveness and accountability of the police, reduce crime by nearly 10%, and bring an end to scandals like Andrew Mitchell’s infamous ‘Plebgate’.

This isn’t fiction, this £500 black box marks the reality of body-worn video (BWV), and it may just be the future of policing.

Policing, evolved

Bobbies with cameras aren’t merely roving paparazzi.

London’s Metropolitan Police are currently trialling the largest deployment of cameras in the UK, 550 body-worn video cameras.

For these officers by default their cameras are switched off most of the time, partly due to current battery and video storage limitations. They sit idle until an arrest or stop-and-search, when officers hit a button to turn them on.

Everything that happens next can be seen by police, lawyers and the public (via a Freedom of Information Act request) in glorious HD.

(Warning: the above footage contains images and audio that some people may find distressing.)

An eye in the sky, and everywhere else

By the end of 2016 over 30,000 such cameras will be worn by police up and down the country, according to Inspector Stephen Goodier, making the UK a world leader in this new field.

Inspector Goodier is the lead officer for the Hampshire Constabulary’s BWV camera project, which has rolled out the cameras to all of its officers. He’s also staff officer to chief constable Andy Marsh, the national policing lead responsible for cameras across the UK.

“We’re now seeing nearly every police force in the UK with adoption of BWV to some degree,” Inspector Goodier told The Memo. “In Hampshire we’re at full adoption, Durham are a large user as are Thames Valley.”

Just last week Home Secretary Theresa May indicated as part of her ongoing reforms to policing she’d be pushing for the wider adoption of cameras by police.

Body cameras will hopefully help lead to fairer policing.
Images by Reveal Media

The stats don’t lie

But what is the actual impact of these cameras on crime?

Early studies are hugely promising. Cameras appear to act as a strong deterrent against crime in the communities they are used in.

A recent University of Portsmouth study at the impact of body-worn cameras on crime on the Isle of Wight found overall recorded crime fell by 8.8% after police officers were given cameras.

Police told researchers: “people tended to ‘calm down’ and respond quicker to police requests when they knew they were being filmed.”

Body cameras will be rolled out across London Met Police force.
Images by Reveal Media

Camera-culture

With stories almost daily about UK police forces trialling and adopting body-worn video cameras, it won’t be long before we live in a world full of cameras.

While that might sound ominous, think how cameras could have been transformational during scandals like Andrew Mitchell’s ‘Plebgate’ or the police shooting of Mark Duggan.

Both incidents would have been resolved in no time.

Let alone the positive impact cameras could have by reducing overall crime on our streets.

“We’re seeing cameras, the adoption of smartphones and all the benefits mobile internet brings for officers,” says Inspector Goodier.

“There’s a lot of dots that we want to join up, but this technology is going to transform policing.”