Home News Police forces’ use of body-worn video achieves Surveillance Camera Code of Practice standards

Police forces’ use of body-worn video achieves Surveillance Camera Code of Practice standards

by Brian Sims

The Security Systems and Alarms Inspection Board (SSAIB) – the security, fire and telecare certification body for the UK and Ireland – has announced that two police forces have pioneered the introduction of body-worn video technology in accordance with the Surveillance Camera Commissioner’s Camera Code of Practice.

Following certification to the Code, duly completed by SSAIB auditors, Greater Manchester Police and the Metropolitan Police Service are now using devices for a variety of innovative and beneficial applications.

Body-worn video technology is now being used in a variety of ways to capture police operational activity first hand. Affordable cameras provide high-quality images and audio, which can then be used for evidential purposes.

Andy Marsh, who was the national policing lead for body-worn video and is now chief constable of Avon and Somerset Police, reported in 2014 that this technology’s advantages include enhanced contemporaneous evidence capture and swifter justice through early guilty pleas and admissions.

Marsh stated: “It can also inform more appropriate sentencing and help to reduce bureaucracy throughout the criminal justice processes by focusing on the needs of victims. Finally, it supports transparency, trust and confidence in the police service.”

Greater Manchester Police

The Greater Manchester Police experience began with a trial of 80 body-worn video cameras among members of response teams in the north and south of Manchester between 2012 and 13.

An initial 12-week pilot led to a roll-out of body-worn video cameras – from March 2016 – to all operational front line police officers and specialist units. Approximately 3,200 units will eventually be deployed, with further plans for the scheme to additionally include Police Community Support Officers at some point this year.

Operational use of the body-worn devices takes account of guidance published by Greater Manchester’s Police and Crime Commissioner, following on from a report by the Independent Police Ethics Committee. It concluded that the technology could help improve the criminal justice process for victims of domestic abuse by gathering crucial evidence to make it quicker and easier to obtain a conviction, as well as relieving the pressure on those victims who don’t feel able to attend court.

Metropolitan Police Service

Meanwhile, following an initial year-long pilot project – involving the distribution of around 500 cameras among emergency response teams spread across ten London Boroughs – the Metropolitan Police Service is now rolling out body-worn video technology across the capital. This three-phase programme entails the deployment of approximately 22,000 camera units and is due for completion by mid-2017.

The force’s initial pilot scheme was studied by the College of Policing and the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime. Their reported findings included potential benefits from body-worn video, including a reduced number of allegations against officers, particularly around oppressive behaviour. Complaints related to direct interactions with members of the public also reduced.

With regards to the Metropolitan Police Service’s accreditation to the Surveillance Camera Code of Practice, the force’s policy lead for digital policing, Sam Harvey, commented: “Achieving full certification has been a vital aspect of our assurance to the public that body-worn video is being used effectively in the Metropolitan Police Service. The Surveillance Camera Commissioner’s comprehensive guiding principles have been invaluable for our body-worn video policy and roll-out of the world’s largest deployment of this technology to date.”

Harvey added: “Independent accreditation for compliance has been a rewarding and enjoyable experience, both during document audits and as a result of on-site visits at key police stations in London. We anticipate that the Met will continue to use the Surveillance Camera Commissioner’s framework in annual reviews and will work closely with the Commissioner in continuing to recognise the implications of body-worn video and maintaining this lead in terms of Best Practice.”

Significant assurance

Mark Chaderton, system support manager at Greater Manchester Police, declared: “Delivery of the certification process was easily understood and applied into all aspects of our body-worn video project across technical specifications, system administration and data sharing. The award of the Surveillance Camera Commissioner’s certificate is a significant assurance to criminal justice partners, individuals and the wider community alike that our use of body-worn video is legitimate, effective and compliant. We’re delighted to have achieved full certification and look forward to continuing to work within the Commissioner’s 12 guiding principles as Greater Manchester Police’s use of body-worn video develops.”

The SSAIB provides a third party certification service to the Surveillance Camera Commissioner that enables local authorities – and those operating Public Space Surveillance camera systems – to demonstrate their conformance with the Code of Practice, which the Commissioner calls a “universally accepted example of good practice”.

Full certification – which lasts for five years – is achieved through a two-step process, with an initial desktop review of an organisation’s completed self-assessment being followed within 12 months by an on-site audit. The Commissioner is required to ensure that ‘relevant authorities’ – including local authorities and the police – comply with the Code.

Other organisations which have successfully achieved certification against the Code of Practice following an SSAIB-conducted audit include national High Street retailer Marks & Spencer, Aston University, Community Safety Glasgow and local authorities such as Liverpool City Council and Kings Lynn & West Norfolk Borough Council, as well as the London Boroughs of Brent, Enfield, Hackney, Islington and Waltham Forest.

“It is interesting to see the Metropolitan Police and Greater Manchester Police forces’ use of body-worn cameras achieve the ‘Surveillance Camera Code of Practice’ standards.

Defensive measure

James Wickes, CEO and co-founder at Cloudview – the cloud surveillance company – has voiced his opinions on the use of body-worn video by the police service.

James Wickes

James Wickes

“There’s no denying that the use of body-worn cameras is an effective means to verify an event,” stated Wickes. “It can inform more appropriate sentencing and help to reduce bureaucracy throughout the criminal justice processes by focusing on the needs of victims. In doing so, the criminal justice process can be compressed, saving both time and money. What’s concerns me is that the Metropolitan Police Service and Greater Manchester Police are using the cameras purely as a defensive measure and a simple video notebook of events. I believe they’re not taking advantage of the true potential of body-worn cameras. They can be far more potent.”

Wickes continued: “For the cameras to be effective, they should be combined with 3G/4G services and cloud systems. This enables visual data to instantly and securely be removed from a situation and then acted on by those in a supervisory capacity and, crucially, by those who have an overview of events through other body-worn cameras and fixed CCTV systems in the vicinity.”

Embellishing that theme, Wickes explained: “Even better, all of these systems would potentially be connected to a unified cloud-based system. It makes perfect sense to enable the same police officers who are wearing cameras to have secure, auditable access to street-based CCTV cameras by connecting them to cloud-based systems. This will allow them to view data from their smart phones or tablets, meaning they can see situations before they arrive at a given scene, for example. It needn’t be expensive, either, which is something which will no doubt be important to the police given the austerity cuts they’re having to make.”

Wickes believes the cloud is a highly effective way to extend the capabilities of the police service without vast investment in new infrastructure and equipment. “The costs to connect existing CCTV systems, be they analogue or IP, to the cloud are negligible in comparison to the vast amounts spent on new CCTV systems that do the same thing as the ones they replace. What’s more important is the accessibility of visual data. We know from recent news reports that the police service struggles to obtain CCTV data. In my opinion, it’s a unified cloud-based surveillance system that will put the police back on the front foot.”

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