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UK Met police begins deployment of 22,000 Body Worn Video (BWV) cameras

Mon 17 Oct 2016

The UK’s Metropolitan Police Service is beginning what it claims to be the largest roll-out of Body Worn Video (BWV) cameras to police officers in the world.

Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe joined London Mayor Sadiq Khan in Lewisham borough to inaugurate the deployment of the devices, which will be issued to police and frontline specialists in all of London’s 32 boroughs.

The new cameras are turned on by officers as necessary during dealings with the public or attendance at crime scenes, and automatically upload stored video when reconnected to a dock later at the station. Videos saved are discarded after 31 days unless earmarked as evidence, and any affected member of the public may request a copy of the video within that time-period.

Axon-video-and-audio-bwvThe cameras, which are manufactured by Axon and employ that company’s cloud network for uploading, feature a 30-second buffer which allows the officer to begin recording even after notable events have begun. So effectively the cameras are always recording, but abandon the recordings twice a minute until the officer commits to document an event. The ‘always on’ buffer does not feature audio.

The devices contain a blinking green light during buffer mode. When active recording begins, the light turns red and a clearly audible beep sounds at intervals.

Though the Met announcement on the roll-out indicates that cameras are not always-on due to concerns about the public’s dealings with police officers, it seems likely that the infrastructural problems of storing hundreds of thousands of hours of video even for 31 days in the cloud is likely a factor in this approach.

Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe commented on the launch: “Body Worn Video will support our officers in the many challenging situations they have to deal with, at the same time as building the public’s confidence…What we do every day will be seen by the public – that has to be good!”

The Met reports that trials of the Axon system have already demonstrated that ‘that they can help bring about speedier justice for victims’.

A 2015 report by the London College of Policing in concert with the Mayor’s office was less certain about some of the reported benefits of Police BWV. The report found that the cameras had no effect on the proportion of arrests for violent crime, though it did confirm the Met’s contention that complaints against police officers by the public were significantly reduced due to knowledge of the video evidence.

It also observed no evidence that BWV changed the way that police officers deal with suspects or victims, nor did the devices inspire any change in the way officers evaluated and carried out stop-and-search procedures.

Britain has been in the vanguard of the BWV impetus over the last ten years. Though Denmark was the first country to experiment with BWV cameras, the UK committed to more extensive and numerous trials from 2005, with trials in Devon and Cornwall proving the current contention of BWV’s value in domestic violence cases.

The Axon camera has a 130-degree wide-angle lens and can be connected to via the mobile app Axon View, available for iOS and Android. The app appends GPS data and facilitates real-time metadata tagging for later keyword-based searching in the cloud evidentiary archives.

With remote monitoring of an officer’s camera, the 30-second buffer rule obviously does not apply, and anyone authorised to access an officer’s camera can apparently do so on the same ongoing basis as a CCTV camera.

There have been calls for the Police and Criminal Evidence Act of 1984 (PACE) to be updated to reflect the use of BWV tech, including the suggestion that video could replace officers’ hand-written statements. Reports note the extent to which BWV has reduced the burden of paperwork on officers.

Most of the UK trial reports show British officers in favour of the video evidence system, with most of the dissent against BWV emanating from both Civil Liberties concerns and officers in the United States. In 2015 St Louis Police expressed concern that inadequate prior legal agreement on usage had been arranged with officers, with a representative of the St. Louis Police Officers Association commenting “This gotcha discipline that we have with the dashboard cameras is what we’d be afraid of.”

The Met UK roll-out is expected to be complete by summer of 2017.


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