CCTV News: London Met Police to trial body worn cameras
This post from May last year has been updated to cover recent events in America and France
In one of the first moves of it’s kind for UK forces, London’s Metropolitan police has started a trial scheme to equip many of it’s officers with body worn cameras. Two fast response teams from each of the city’s boroughs will be equipped with the compact cameras, with 500 being rolled out across the force. The kits- purpose built by self defense equipment firm Taser- include tiny pinhole cameras that mount to the lapel or the frames of glasses, as well as a separate unit that controls and stores recordings. A central archive then allows the footage to be easily recalled for use as evidence.
The trial comes at a time when the public’s trust in the Police has been in the spotlight in several countries. Perhaps most notoriously, the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by an officer in Ferguson, Missouri led to several nights of violent unrest in the area- eventually sparking sympathetic protests in cities as far afield as London- when the officer in question was cleared of wrongdoing by a Grand Jury. Whilst eye witness accounts suggested the shots were fired in self defence, the relationship between the Black community in Ferguson and the police was so strained by years of alleged persecution and bias that the community simply did not believe the testimony. In the wake of this, many pointed to body worn cameras as the most effective way of bringing back that trust by providing a more objective record of events. Indeed, the effectiveness of video was illustrated just months later, when 8 year old Antonion Martin was shot in a nearby suburb. Whilst there was not body camera evidence, the incident was captured on nearby CCTV, and the police immediately released the footage as proof of their account of events.
In addition to gaining evidence of events, the cameras can help improve interactions between police and public- after all, both sides tend to behave more cordially when they know their actions are on camera. The force’s adoption of the cameras also comes at a time when it is increasingly common to see bystander’s recordings of arrests and police actions make their way onto social media. For the police force themselves to have a source of recordings taken from the officer’s perspective may help them win this 21st century PR battle. Some however, have questioned the potential for officers to abuse the recording process- the thought of a firearms officer’s camera conveniently going down just before an incident is worrying. Taser however claims a complete record is kept of all interactions with the device by users.
In another application for the technology, a recent Channel 4 news report has also suggested that many more units will be given body worn cameras with a remote viewing capability in the wake of the Paris terror attacks, letting commanders view a live feed of ground level events as tactical plans unfold.
Naturally, some have raised concerns over the cameras on privacy grounds, with many describing Big Brother scenarios of law enforcement constantly recording an unawares public. Despite this, the American Civil Liberties Union- a prominent critic of excessive surveillance- has broadly welcomed their introduction by American forces, providing strict standards for use are adhered to. Ultimately the figures speak for themselves- after introducing such cameras, the city of Rialto, California saw a massive 88% reduction in complaints against the police, and a 60% reduction in use of force. With figures like that it’s easy to see the appeal both forces and members of the community.