After the death of Mr Duggan in Tottenham, north London, widespread riots moved across England. The event caused criticism towards the police, resulting in a pilot scheme with police officers wearing body cameras. The scheme is a plan to boost transparency and accelerate convictions. A trial will see 500 devices distributed to officers across 10 London boroughs with the cameras designed to capture evidence at the crime scenes.

It has been argued that this would speed up justice, with Met Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe stating that: ‘Our experience of using cameras already shows that people are more likely to plead guilty when they know we have captured the incident. That speeds up justice, puts offenders behind bars more quickly and protects potential victims.’ On the other hand, Jack Hart from The Freedom Association argues that the move means ‘everyone is under suspicion’. Camden Borough is the first to start using the cameras, with further trials following in Barnet, Bexley, Bromley, Brent, Croydon, Ealing, Havering, Hillingdon and Lewisham. Officers will store material from each incident and keep it on file for a month unless it is required for evidential purposes.

After a jury at the inquest into Mr Duggan’s death concluded that he had been lawfully killed by police marksmen, the debate over the police using body cameras became more prevalent. How could Mr Duggan’s side of the story be told when he was the one killed? Some argue however that the use of cameras is not wholly beneficial and that they undermine the trust between both the public and the police.

Those who support the use of body cameras in the police force argue that it can film footage at domestic violence incidents, road traffic accidents, fights outside pubs and nightclubs which can then enable the provision of evidence that leads to prosecutions. Environmental officers can use body cameras to catch people dropping litter, fly-tipping as well as enabling the protection of staff. Overall, wearing a body camera in a situation where an officer may have to use force can protect an officer against allegations and on the other hand, improve accountability of how the police use their powers. In this way, incidents which can be subject to controversy are viewed by the law in black and white.

Following the days of protests and unrest in Ferguson after the killing of the unarmed black teenager Michael Brown, Ferguson’s police department announced a range of actions as part of the healing process. A part of this involved the consideration of making all their officers wear cameras on their vests in order to ‘build upon our many existing community relationships’. After the incident, Ferguson police were criticised for their attempts to control the disorder which involved the use of tear gas and military equipment. With conflicting statements about the lead-up to the fatal shooting of Brown, some eyewitnesses claimed the officers fired after Brown attacked whilst others stated that Brown had his hands in the air in surrender. Body cameras (if on and pointing at the correct position) would have the power to clear up this situation and reveal the truth about what actually happened and who was truly at fault.

In the UK, police are often accused of being discriminatory in their stop and search practices. If body cameras were provided for each officer, they would monitor their behaviour and those they interact with and may bring an end to accusations of discrimination. Barak Ariel, who is researching the effect of police using body cameras states that: ‘In terms of civil liberties, everybody is using personal cameras these days: it’s just a matter of who is doing the recording…It’s a question of balancing rights with what the police should be doing. If the police should be doing stop and search, at least you have a mechanism there that keeps all parties in check.’ On the other hand, Professor Mike Tonge of the University of Cumbria brings up a concern about the consequences of body cameras for policing. He notes that: ‘If things are not caught on video, do we still trust the police officer to give that verbal evidence…My worry is that people will have an expectation that everything is filmed and the uncorroborated word of a police officer may be a casualty of that.’

It is clear that the jury is still out on the use of body cameras by police officers. It is obvious that some see them as an effective means of obtaining evidence and ensuring police officers do not abuse their power. Whereas others consider body cameras as an additional way for authorities to ‘watch over us’, control our actions and enforce ‘good behaviour.’

Whatever the outcome of this debate, we should all be cautious about this increasing use of surveillance technology.

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