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Camden police get body-worn cameras but critics warn it will invade privacy

Borough commander says video evidence will speed up justice system

15 March, 2017 — By Koos Couvée, William McLennan

The new cameras were launched by Camden police on Monday

POLICE officers in Camden will be wearing video cameras attached to their uniforms from this week in a move which the Met says will bring speedier justice and improved accountability but critics say will invade privacy.

All front-line officers in the borough were kitted out with “body-worn cameras” on Monday and borough commander Catherine Roper said the technology would provide a “whole host of benefits”.

“It improves officers’ ability to do their job, it protects vulnerable victims of crime and it provides much more reliable evidence than describing something in a statement would,” she said. “When [evidence] can be recorded and shown by police you are more likely to get an early guilty plea, which means that the efficiency of the criminal justice process [improves]. Any interaction between the public and police can be filmed, and this protects the police officer and the public – it’s much more transparent.”

The cameras will not be rolling constantly and officers are supposed to inform members of the public when they are recording.

But Emily-Jade Girvan, a solicitor specialising in civil liberties, said: “The potential risks body-worn cameras pose to privacy far outweigh the potential benefits of every Met officer being equipped with one. With body-worn cameras, police officers have the ability to film people in public and in their own homes, even when no criminal offence has been committed.”

Ms Girvan, of ITN Solicitors, said that only a “small amount of offences” were likely to be witnessed by a police officer and caught on camera, adding: “I think this has to be taken into account when weighing up the effectiveness of body-worn cameras, given the serious privacy issues which exist.”

A report released on Tuesday by the government’s surveillance camera commissioner, Tony Porter, warned that while public support for CCTV cameras remained high, this could change with the proliferation of “more intrusive” body-worn cameras.

The Met said that cameras would prove useful during stop-and-searches – a controversial police tactic that has come under criticism from campaigners who say black youths are disproportionally targeted.

John Kilvington, who is a member of Camden Stop and Search Monitoring group, said: “I think it’s a step forward, but I don’t think they’re an answer to all the problems. “It will record a confrontation and a conversation and how the search is put into practice, but it’s not going to give a whole load of lead-up to the circumstances of why a person needs to be stopped.”

Sergeant Tim Owen said at Monday’s launch the cameras have already proven useful in recording evidence from vulnerable victims of robbery and in domestic violence cases. The fact that video footage had been recorded of such incidents meant that statements from victims were not essential, and led to early guilty pleas, he said.

PC Hugh Winchester added: “I think people think they can get away with being disrespectful towards police. But as soon as they realise they are being filmed, I think they will moderate their behaviour.”

Members of the public who wish to view footage taken of them can request, in writing, to obtain it under freedom of information and data protection laws. Scotland Yard said footage would be deleted after 31 days unless it was being “retained as evidence or for a policing purpose”.

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