Body Worn Video Steering Group
The Scottish Herald recently reported that body worn video cameras would pay for themselves in just a couple of years, according to Chief Constable Sir Stephen House. Currently, only officers in north-east Scotland wear the body mounted systems, and the force’s main civilian watchdog has called for a public debate before they are rolled out nationwide.
But Sir Stephen has stressed he believes the cameras – which would cost about £5 million – could bring major savings to the justice system, not least by providing images that could lead to early pleas in prosecutions. Citing, the recently released report about the use of body worn video and the impact it has on criminal justice outcomes for domestic abuse.
“Findings from this trial show that body worn video could improve criminal justice outcomes for cases of domestic abuse,” notes the report. “This study suggests that there is value in forces exploring other applications of body worn video, to other offence types, for criminal justice outcomes. However it is important that forces consider the context of implementation; and the possible ‘return on investment’ before committing to this sort of intervention.
“Return on investment is important, and the cost of body worn video and the training – which required officers to be abstracted from ordinary duties for a day – should be weighed up against the potential benefits. Many of the benefits may also be extra costs, as an increase in the proportion of charges may mean more attendance of officers at court and more back office staff preparing case files.”
Why then is this of significance for Scotland? Well, in August, the Scottish Government published its digital strategy for justice, which confirmed that Police Scotland has commissioned a full business case to “determine the precise policy, practical and fiscal requirements” of body-worn video cameras.
It’s no secret that Sir Stephen House is keen on the technology. This time last year the chief constable told Holyrood he wanted to see every officer north of the border issued with such a device.
Grampian Police, one of the eight constabularies that merged into the single force, decided to issue officers throughout Aberdeenshire with a body-worn video camera the year before following a successful pilot. The force said more than 90 per cent of cases pursued using evidence gathered via the technique resulted in early guilty pleas. A number of specialist units have access to the technology, though the intention is to move towards national roll-out subject to the aforementioned business case.
Appearing to refer to controversy over armed policing practices, he warned that what was acceptable in the old Grampian force area might not go down well elsewhere in the country.
He said: “The Scottish Police Authority [SPA], I think quite rightly, take a view there has to be a public debate on this because, as I’ve learned to my cost in recent months, doing ¬something in one part of the country for five or seven years and then announcing it across the rest of the country doesn’t always work as seamlessly as you would like, and I wouldn’t want to do the same thing with body cameras.
“There are questions around privacy and there are questions around data protection that have to be answered.”
Sir Stephen was speaking at a conference on domestic abuse in Edinburgh.
Mhairi McGowan, of the Assist scheme to help abuse victims, said human rights objections to the cameras should be overcome.
“I think they could be very helpful in dealing with domestic abuse cases. How many times have police reported to the courts that the home – the crime scene – was in disarray. Imagine if they had video? Or images of the victim?
“I think this would help get early pleas and I think the quicker such cases are dealt with the better.”
Chairman of the SPA, Vic Emery, has said a decision about the use of body worn video should not be left to the police alone.
Tags: BBC, body camera, body worn camera, BWVSG, BWVSG Guide, domestic abuse, Grampian Police, Hampshire, Luton, meeting, New York, Operation Hyperion, personal use, Private, research, Scotland, Sir Stephen House, Use-of-force