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Body Worn Video Steering Group

Body Worn Video Science to Improve Policing

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Barack Obama has responded to many growing concerns about policing by proposing $75 million to provide 50,000 body worn video cameras to the nation’s police. This initiative should bring movement to make street policing more transparent and accountable to avoid disputes.

The shift from body worn video comes in part from the remarkable story of Dr Barak Ariel, who undertook a research experiment as part of his Cambridge University Masters programme.

The police department in Rialto, California serves a city of 100,000 and has just over one hundred sworn officers. Similar to many other departments, it has faced allegations that its officers have used excessive force. Its chief, Tony Farrar, decided to test whether supplying his officers with body worn video would reduce force and complaints against them.

A former Victoria Police Commissioner described the relationship between the police and research as a “dialogue of the deaf”. The Police did not value research and researchers frequently did not value policing. Police Chiefs often saw research as yet another form of criticism of the organisation. Despite this, research has had a major effect on modern policing. There are few police departments in the developed world that don’t claim to target “hot-spots” of crime.

Since the results from the Rialto trial have been published, its lessons have spread and it is now being replicated in the rest of the United States, as well as the United Kingdom. The UK College of Policing has conducted randomised trials of body worn video with the Essex police department to test the effectiveness of the cameras at gathering evidence in domestic violence investigations.

Up until now, we have not seen such a focus on science in policing. However, there are signs of real transformation which are being driven by a real need to understand the legitimacy of what people say in a more efficient way.

Body worn video can provide a means to transform policing as long as police departments are prepared to adopt the science. This will mean policing needs an education and training that does not just teach procedures, but also the most effective ways to use them and explain why they work.

Police leaders will need to target resources using best available science, test the practices and monitor the impact and progress made. It will also require the College of Policing to work towards the new profession in policing, in which practice is recognised and expertise is rewarded.

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