How cameras will change the way we think about the police

Harriet Green
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Up to 500 police officers will now be expected to film interviews at crime scenes using body-worn cameras, delivering the recorded evidence online, as part of an initiative announced by the Ministry of Justice.

In a move to try and heave trial procedures out of the 19th century, lessening reams of paperwork and using digital evidence, new videoscreens and laptops will allows courts to view initial interviews.

By 2016, all criminal courts in the UK are expected to be operating digitally.

Justice minister Damian Green commented:

We have found cameras [particularly useful] in domestic violence cases. I want to see a criminal justice system where information is captured once by a police officer responding to a crime then flows through the system to the court stage without duplication or reworking.

Needless to say, this is a very helpful step for victims and for courts. It’s good for the police because they can start compiling caseloads more quickly, and it’s certainly good news for the public.

Recorded encounters mean an unprecedented level of accountability. This is important. Out of just over 1,500 people polled by YouGov, nearly 650 feel ‘negative’ or ‘very negative’ towards the police.

This week, a new MP report found strong evidence that figures for crimes as serious as rape have been fiddled in Police Recorded Crime.

Then there’s the mounting accusations of abuse against members of the public, the allegations of institutional collusion in Plebgate and the covert surveillance against Stephen Lawrence’s family.

Sean Gabb, director of Libertarian Alliance, says cameras will force officers to behave more reasonably.

He also thinks it’s a defect that cameras can be turned on and off at the discretion of officers, suggesting they should have them on at all times.

Arguably, though, it might be more preferable to allow a culture of taking responsibility to grow, rather than trying to enforce it at the outset.

The choice of responsibility is more likely to incentivise someone than the lack of it - it seems a reasonable assumption that individuals within the police force would want keep cameras on to prove a lack of misconduct and prevent false accusations.

Now you could say that garners a sense of “guilty until proven innocent” but, given the nature of the job and current sentiment, it’s more like - as Gabb points out: “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.” And more than that, there's a real opportunity for police to start rebuilding trust.