Cameras not all seeing eye in war on crime

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There has been a lot of publicity recently about issuing police officers with body worn cameras.

This is not a new innovation; in fact Lancashire Police have been using them for several years.

There are obvious evidential advantages with using these cameras. A visual recording of disorder in a public area or the aftermath of an incident of domestic violence can provide compelling evidence of a defendant’s guilt.

However, the rush to equip the police with cameras is more to do with attempts to improve police transparency and accountability.

It’s hoped recordings of the police using stop and search powers will aide community relations and reduce complaints. Similarly, if armed officers use cameras, then the recordings may assist the IPCC and coroners during investigations into police related shootings.

But they are not the panacea some appear to think they are. First of all, the cameras are not recording all the time and officers must remember to switch them on.

If, through human error or technical issue, the camera fails to record, then allegations will still be made. Secondly, cameras will not record everything relevant to the incident. Especially as the cameras are attached to the body and not the head, meaning the wearer may glance sideways and see things that are not recorded and critical events will happen off camera.

Also, recordings taken at ground level and close within an incident can be misleading; there may be a completely different perspective to an incident when it is viewed from a higher and wider vantage point.

Therefore, police officers, members of the public and lawyers will still have differing interpretations about what actually happened in a recorded incident. Without doubt there are some benefits to the use of body cameras but excessive use may negatively affect the way police officers interact with the public.

Some people will be reluctant to approach officers because they won’t want a recording being made of what they have told police. Similarly, police officers who become too aware that their every movement and word spoken is recorded and subject to potential critical review may become robotic and distant.

In any case, I am far from convinced the increased use of body cameras by the police will have any impact on those in society who have an ingrained anti-police mentality.