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Thursday, September 28, 2023

A matter of trust

The BBC reports on an investigation that has found that police officers are switching off their body-worn cameras when force is used, as well as deleting footage and sharing videos on WhatsApp.

The broadcaster says that they have uncovered more than 150 reports of camera misuse by forces in England and Wales - described as "shocking" by a leading officer:

The Home Office says police use of cameras must be lawful and justified.

The roll-out of body-worn cameras, costing at least £90m over the past decade, was intended to benefit both victims and the police - protecting officers against malicious complaints and improving the quality of evidence collected.

But during a two-year investigation, the BBC has obtained hundreds of reports of misuse from Freedom of Information requests, police sources, misconduct hearings and regulator reports.

The cameras were introduced to improve policing transparency, but we found more than 150 camera misuse reports with cases to answer over misconduct, recommendations for learning or where complaints were upheld.

The most serious allegations include:

* Cases in seven forces where officers shared camera footage with colleagues or friends - either in person, via WhatsApp or on social media

* Images of a naked person being shared between officers on email and cameras used to covertly record conversations

* Footage being lost, deleted or not marked as evidence, including video, filmed by Bedfordshire Police, of a vulnerable woman alleging she had been raped by an inspector - the force later blamed an "administrative error"

* Switching off cameras during incidents, for which some officers faced no sanctions - one force said an officer may have been "confused"

The failures uncovered by the BBC are "unlawful" in some cases, says the National Police Chief Council's lead for body-worn video, Acting Chief Constable Jim Colwell.

"Those incidents go to the heart of what undermines confidence in policing," he says.

He believes more footage should now be released in order to improve public trust.

The Metropolitan Police say body-worn cameras act as an "independent witness" - and are used millions of times a year but, as the BBC report, forces almost never release this footage to the press after significant incidents or in response to Freedom of Information requests.

Although some forces have scrutiny panels, and regulators will review footage as part of misconduct proceedings, the police are largely responsible for scrutinising camera use themselves.

This must change. These cameras are there to protect both the public and the police, but without greater transparency it is impossible for us to know if this compact is working or not. All the evidence points to abuses that must be stamped out. This is a matter of trust, and without trust there cannot be consent to the way we are policed.
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