Police Body Cameras – Should they be activated at all times?
Starting last September, NSW police rolled out Body-Worn Video (BWV) to support front line operational policing activities. Over the next two years, it is expected that government will spend $4 million on police body cameras, and eventually all front line officers across the state will be equipped with body cameras.
According to the NSW Police Force, the use of the body cameras will generally depend on the incident and will be used at the officer’s discretion. The body cameras are to be worn conspicuously “on police officer’s uniform/clothing” and “where practical, members of the public will be advised they are being recorded.”
Police personnel are responsible for activating the body cameras, and can choose whenever they wish to turn them on and off. However, the cameras are expected to be activated under the following circumstances:
-When police would normally use their official police notebook to record information (this does not replace the need to use a police notebook in such situations)
-To capture evidence or record something of relevance
-When exercising a police power
-Performing a policing function
-As part of first response crime and incident investigation.
-General patrolling of Licensed Premises, public transport and other public areas
whilst conducting vehicle stops
-During conversation with members of the public which may relate to an incident, is relevant to an investigation, or is possibly valuable police or crime related information
-In situations where the use of force is anticipated
The Pros of Using Body Cameras
Supporters of police body cameras, including NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione (Sydney Morning Herald) say “the footage would be helpful for gathering evidence to support prosecutions but also for police to use as a training and education tool.” He also said “cameras reduced the time spent on paperwork, enhanced the preparation of evidence and improved the behaviour of officers and the public.”
Proponents of police body cameras also say that Body-Worn Video helps to de-escalate violence in certain circumstances because those having interactions with the police know they are being recorded and will behave accordingly. Body cameras may also help to address the back log in court proceedings as some believe that presenting video evidence in court encourages more guilty pleas.
The Sydney Morning Herald quotes Deputy Premier and Police Minister Troy Grant, who say the cameras “would help officers called to domestic violence cases,” especially in situations “where victims may be vulnerable and reluctant to give evidence.”
Those in favour of BWV highlight how the body cameras are objective and impassive observers that just digitally record events as they transpire. They also circumvent the he said/she said element of issues, which is especially important when it comes to false claims and/or possible litigation.
Should BWV be activated at all times when dealing with members of the public?
The use of body cameras is completely discretionary. The officer wearing the camera can simply turn the camera on or off whenever he/she choose.
This leaves the recording of footage easily manipulated by Police.
If BWV were introduced to hold Police accountable, they should be required to be activated at all times when encountering members of the public.