Research commissioned by Police Scotland says there is widespread public support for officers to wear body cameras when attending incidents, but also warned of pitfalls to be avoided.
A team from the Centre for Research into Information, Surveillance and Privacy (CRISP) at the University of Stirling has produced a report on the issue, based on a literature review and semi-structured interviews with experts on body worn video (BWV).
The researchers emphasised that before introducing BWV, Police Scotland must ensure that processes for effective governance and scrutiny, particularly data handling, are in place.
Professor William Webster of the University of Stirling Management School, who led the work on the report, said: “Body worn video seems a simple concept – it’s a camera that police carry around – but how it’s used influences a complicated set of relationships, starting with that between the citizen and the state.
“It’s important to understand the consequences and how the technology shapes behaviour, to make sure that it is being used in the interests of society and not just in the interests of policing.”
Protection and surveillance
He added: “The police like BWV because it offers them protection during risky encounters, de-escalating violence, for example, and collects evidence for prosecutions. But it also puts the police under surveillance. For instance, elsewhere, it has picked up officers smoking on duty, or using a mobile phone when driving, so that has to be considered.
“Then there needs to be further thought about usage during sensitive circumstances, such as at a mosque, or when responding to domestic violence. Trust in technologies and in the police can easily be lost.”
Webster said the research showed a gap between protocol and practice in other forces, where protocols were too vague.
“It’s very important to establish clear protocols and training for how BWV should be used,” he said. “For example, giving a warning and switching on when an incident is about to start.
“There also needs to be a clear plan for what happens to the recording, which is citizens’ data – is it downloaded by the officer at the end of a shift? Where to? Who can access it? What circumstances justify keeping it?
“And there must be an oversight mechanism, such as dip sampling, where random recordings are checked, possibly by lay people, to monitor how BWV is being used.”
He added that is important that organisations such as the police continue to consult with the public and academics around the introduction of new technologies.
Police Scotland Chief Superintendent Matt Richards said: “The chief constable has underlined his support for the wider introduction of body worn video cameras in Scotland and Dame Elish Angiolini recommended our plans to expand their use be accelerated in her independent review of complaints.
“BWV requires significant investment but has the potential to enhance the vital bond of trust and confidence policing in Scotland has with our fellow citizens and which underpins our legitimacy. BWV can also lead to swifter justice outcomes.
“We agree a wider roll out of BWV must be ethical and transparent and we are encouraged that our previous national public consultation in 2021 found overwhelming support for its introduction. The feedback we received will help inform our BWV code of practice. We are also taking advice and guidance on ethical, human rights and civil liberties considerations.”