Police forces across England and Wales are preparing for a rollout of ‘Body-worn Cameras’, and the government has announced that prison officers will shortly be assisted by this new technology.
What are Body-worn Cameras?
BWCs are small recording devices, very similar to a GoPro, which allows for constant audio and video recording in an unobtrusive manner.
The evidence from these cameras can be used to support a prosecution, and some argue that with officers and others aware that their actions could be caught on camera, it will result in a positive effect on behaviour.
Is behaviour calmed when a camera is present?
It is usually accepted that we behave better when being watched, for example, we are less likely to speed past a roadside camera or get involved in unlawful activity.
In 2011, researchers at Newcastle University posted pictures of a pair of male eyes and the caption, “Cycle Thieves: We Are Watching You.” Bike thefts decreased by 62 percent in those locations — and not elsewhere.
A study in Rialto California (USA) in 2012 appeared to show dramatic changes in police behaviour. Complaints against police officers were down 90% compared to the previous year. Critics, however, have been sceptical of this study, in part because only 54 officers participated.
That caution did not result in a slowdown of BWC deployment and by 2015 95% of US large police departments had deployed BWC or had committed to doing so.
Now, police forces in England and Wales are following suit.
The Rialto findings seemed to accord with common sense, but a new 18-month study of more than 2,000 police officers in Washington (USA), published on 20th October has disclosed ‘almost no effect’ on police officer behaviour.
Are BWCs a waste of money then?
This is a controversial question, and there may be many reasons for the Washington findings.
Other arguable benefits of BWCs are:
- Detecting rogue officer behaviour after the event
- Accurate recording of evidence
- Building community trust in the police – In another new study that will be published in the November 2017 issue of the journal Policing, researchers interviewed 249 people who had recent encounters with officers wearing cameras. Those who were aware of the cameras perceived the encounters as more “just” than those who were not.
It would appear that the jury is out as to the efficacy of BWCs. Supporters claim that there are definite benefits for both police and public, while detractors cite privacy concerns, sizeable public expenditure and a lack of cogent evidence to support their continued deployment.
What is clear to us is that we see the evidential worth of cameras in an ever increasing number of cases. Such evidence must, however, be analysed carefully, so as not to fall into the trap of believing that ‘the camera never lies’. We often find that video evidence is taken out of context, is distorted, and on occasions when it might be thought helpful to the defence, goes missing. It relies on the officer switching his camera on at the right time, and leaving it on for long enough.Read More
Victory for JFH Crime at Willesden Magistrates Court
Duncan Roberts recently represented SM in relation to an allegation of common assault on his ex-partner. The trial took place at the Willesden Magistrates Court with a rather unusual occurrence during an adjournment of the proceedings.
The trial itself was fairly routine with SM raising the issue of self-defence as the reason for physical contact between himself and the complainant. During her evidence in chief and cross-examination the complainant accepted that she was angry with SM and had taken possession of his expensive laptop and had fully intended to smash it. She accepted that had she not been physically stopped she would have smashed it.
SM’s evidence was consistent with his account in interview and was credible and consistent in the face of cross-examination by the prosecution. After less than 10 minutes of deliberating, the magistrates found that they could not be sure that the prosecution had disproved self-defence of property and acquitted SM.
Chair retired in the middle of the case
Due to a lack of court time, the matter had to go ‘part-heard’ after the prosecution had concluded their case. This in itself is not unusual, however, the chair of the bench turned 70 the day after the trial was originally before the court. The Courts Act 2003 stipulates that 70 is the mandatory retirement age for magistrates.
An eagle-eyed legal adviser was aware of the issues that may have been caused by this and contacted the Lord Chancellor’s office for special dispensation for the former chair to return to the bench to conclude this particular case as it was part-heard.
Despite postponing the case for the Lord Chancellor’s office to return the legal adviser’s numerous calls, the permission was not forthcoming.
As SM was keen to have the matter resolved he instructed that he would be content with the matter to proceed with just two lay magistrates despite the potential deadlock if they were unable to decide on the outcome of the case.
Eventually it was proposed that the retired chair take a seat on the bench as an ‘interested observer’ so that he could hear the remainder of the case, a final attempt would then be made to obtain the Lord Chancellor’s consent; if granted he could sit with his colleagues for deliberation, if not the decision would be made by just the remaining two.
Unfortunately, the Lord Chancellor had still not made his way through his email and urgent messages by 12:30 when the evidence had finished. He therefore was not party to the discussions which saw our client acquitted.
We would like to thank the chair for taking the time to sit as an observer in the hope that he would be granted permission and to wish him a long and happy retirement.
If you are facing criminal proceedings in the Magistrates or Crown Court and want the team at JFH Crime to represent you, please contact us on 020 7388 1658 or email@example.com
Duncan Roberts, Solicitor