New research has revealed widespread support among front line police officers for body-worn video cameras, with officers finding their use “empowering”. The independent study, conducted by criminologists at London Metropolitan University, looked at officers’ attitudes towards the technology during trials with the City of London Police. The police officers involved in the study were interviewed both before and after the trial to identify any shifts in attitude towards the technology.
The research discovered that 83% of police officers feel body-worn cameras should be adopted, with one adding that such cameras are “the best piece of kit” they’ve used. The report, entitled Trialling Body-Worn Video Cameras for the City of London Police: Perceptions and Justice Outcomes, also states that more than 93.2% of officers believe such cameras will assist with evidence gathering.
Lead author Dr James Morgan from London Metropolitan University said: “Contrary to many assumptions regarding ‘cop culture’, the officers surveyed and interviewed for this study were very progressive in their approaches to this new technology. They want greater accountability and oversight. They believe in their own policing practice and wish this to be recorded. The findings also point to a particular context in policing where officers’ actions are often scrutinised by members of the public who are armed with their own recording equipment. The participants in this study wanted their own footage to counter negative portrayals of the police which might be found on social media, in turn having their perspective and experiences better understood by the wider public.”
Morgan added: “Police officers are mainly positive about this technology, and most notably so in the hope it will reduce spurious complaints and give the police the opportunity to show the pressures under which they work.”
Reducing assaults on officers
Another interesting finding is that officers believe the presence of a camera has a positive and calming effect on confrontational situations.
Morgan commented: “As well as reducing complaints, it’s hoped that this technology will reduce the time officers spend preparing evidence for court, increase guilty pleas and contribute towards a reduction of assaults perpetrated on police officers.”
Second author Dr Dan Silverstone, who now works at Liverpool John Moores University, added: “The findings are particularly important because they address the stereotype that police officers often face. Body-worn video cameras will play a significant role in improving police legitimacy and enhancing public safety. At the time of the study, there were issues to be addressed in terms of ensuring that the evidence from the cameras was compatible with the Crown Prosecution Service’s own systems. However, when these issues are resolved, evidence from the body-worn cameras will increase the speed and success of prosecutions.”
The idea of body-worn cameras in policing is relatively new, with the first cameras being tested back in 2005.
Increasing confidence in police officers
Chief Superintendent David Lawes from the City of London Police observed: “We’re confident that the continued use of body-worn video cameras will help us to build on our efforts to bring policing in the Square Mile into the 21st Century, while also increasing confidence in our officers and the difficult job they do. These cameras already play an important role in our policing as the mere presence of this type of solution can often prevent potentially volatile situations from escalating.”
Lawes went on to state: “Simply put, video captures events in a way that cannot be represented on paper in the same detail. As one officer in this study states, video enables one to feel the emotion of an incident. Our officers already work in an observed environment with the prevalence of camera phones in society. Body-worn cameras allow those officers to show their interpretation of an incident, while still being fully accountable for their actions.”
A broad sample of City of London Police officers took part in this study into perceptions of the impact of using body-worn cameras. The output document shows their largely positive response.
The cameras used in the trial were developed by supplier TASER and can be attached to the breast of a police uniform.