There has been a massive increase in the numbers of Body Worn Video (BWV) being deployed by all manner of organisations, most significantly across the UK police. The argument for? That BWV will prove to be a useful tool in crime fighting, and most importantly will have a major impact on the number of assaults on officers.
As with all good debates of course there is also a swell of argument against the deployment of this new technology, citing amongst their objections invasions of privacy, concerns over the potential for misuse by officers and lack of evidence of the technology’s effectiveness, only of benefit after an event, therefore offering the illusion of safety, not actual safety. Not surprisingly, the adoption of BWV has been dogged by controversy from the start. The use of the Rialto Study to heavily influence the approach and validation of BWV as a concept has been described by its authors as flawed, saying that “most of the claims made by advocates and critics of the technology remain untested”. They also highlight that the study suggested that police forces, governments and researchers should invest more time in “replicating the findings” and conduct more research on the subject before a widespread roll-out.
It is unclear what other research went on before the large-scale roll-outs across forces began; it certainly hasn’t been widely published. However, against a backdrop of increased violence against officers and fewer officers available, some of the benefits of BWV seemed so attractive and with the support of influential figures like the then Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, its adoption became inevitable whilst critics and those on the fence remain unconvinced that there was adequate proof of concept. So, BWV not surprisingly, has captured the attention of the public and both the trade and the mainstream media sources. Professional Security magazine readers will be equally unsurprised, given my vocal opinions on maintaining the balance between security and privacy, that I too have something of an opinion on this area.
In the midst of all of this debate, the British Standards Institute (BSI) recently announced the launch of a new standard- BS 8593: 2017 Code of practice for the deployment and use of Body Worn Video (BWV).
I have always been a keen supporter of standardisation. Standards allow us to review and manage processes in an objective, pragmatic and practical way.
There is a lot of emotion and conflicting opinion, largely based around assumption, swirling around the topic of BWV and surveillance in general. This isn’t always helpful when you are talking about technology roll-out on this scale and at this cost. The consultation for the development of this important standard appears balanced and comprehensive; including the Home Office (although it is not police-specific, police have been the greatest adopters of this technology), the Surveillance Camera Commissioner, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and Big Brother Watch, to name but a few. The Standard provides a considered response to widespread concerns about data security and privacy, not unlike similar concerns that we have seen about the widespread use of CCTV over the years, and covers key areas such as training, data protection, functionality (including encryption), and legitimate deployment.
Whilst the safety of police officers is hugely important, and I am never heard to object to anything that contributes to a safer working environment for them, it wasn’t the only consideration. Improving quality of evidence was also a deciding factor in whether adoption should happen. To convince those opposed to the police use of this technology, there needs to be measurable, quantifiable results. Whilst there has been some key improvements in evidence gathering in crimes such as domestic violence, there has yet to be any conclusive statistics or trend analysis that this is an across the board improvement. Of course, these improvements are only going to become apparent if good quality statistical analysis is taking place, and it does not appear to be.
Indeed, following a Freedom Of Information request made by Big Brother Watch, one of the bodies involved in the development of the new standard, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) made an alarming admission. They do not currently hold data on BWV results ‘in a retrievable manner.’ The FOI request had asked for crime data on cases involving BWV, both when a defendant has entered a guilty plea having seen the footage of themselves and also how often BWV footage was requested from police. It appears that it was not possible to fulfil the request as it would require a manual review of case records. So, whilst we think that BWV must improve prosecution of criminals, we can’t actually prove it yet. Where so much public funding is being spent, especially in the area of law enforcement, and has come at a time when public sector budgets are under ever more strain, it is particularly vital to realise the best possible outcomes from the use of this technology, for everyone involved.
If we are to genuinely and effectively determine whether or not this technology is effective, fit for purpose or as critics insist, is overly invasive and costly with little return on investment, then we need to offer proper evidence to back up every assertion. That means police forces need to keep better records, the CPS need to start correlating the effectiveness of BWV in successful prosecutions, good quality data needs to be available and interrogable and the benefits felt by officers on the street and the public alike proven.
A wide scale uptake of this standard; at least as wide scale as the commitment to the roll-out of the technology in the first place, may go a long way in ensuring that this heavy investment was a wise one by police. That, combined with measurable and transparent reporting of results from forces and CPS alike should help remove any barriers to support and show the genuine, not assumed benefits. Hertfordshire police revealed that on average more than ten officers a week are assaulted on duty. This force has spent more than £614k on BWV, one would hope that this will result in the drastic reduction of the number of assaults and injuries to police officers. While opinions may differ on the efficacy of the equipment and indeed, even on what its projected efficacy was, for some time to come, the fact is the cameras are now in place and that is highly unlikely to change. What critics and public alike need is assurance that proper process is in place and a standard is great place to start.