Over the last decade British police forces have begun to utilise, develop and support the deployment of a range of emergent digital technologies, including body-worn video cameras (BWCs). This collaborative study, involving the University of Leeds, Cumbria Constabulary and West Yorkshire Police, explored the impacts of police use of BWCs at domestic abuse incidents. Data was collected from police and prosecutors to assess the role and functions of BWCs at these incidents, as well as the risks and rewards attached to the use of body-worn video footage in any resulting criminal prosecutions.
- Officers viewed the use of BWCs at incidents of domestic abuse to be a positive development.Whilst this mandatory requirement placed additional responsibilities on them, which they had toconsider and act upon, a strong consensus emerged that the benefits of the cameras, particularlyfor safeguarding victims and for charging suspects, outweighed the costs.
- Officers considered BWCs to be a valuable tool for gathering evidence from the immediate aftermath of an incident, which could corroborate the allegations of victims and witnesses, and which they would otherwise be unable to capture in similarly impactful and compelling ways.
- Officers felt that BWCs often helped them to de-escalate conflict and reassure victims and witnesses, as well as to avoid ‘trouble’ that they might encounter in police work, both when deployed to incidents and afterwards should their version of events be scrutinised or questioned.
- Officers felt that BWCs were a source of support, which increased their confidence that they could justify post-hoc the decisions they make when dealing with domestic abuse incidents.
Various risks for the prosecution case were associated with BWCs, including inconsistencies between the evidential footage recorded at the scene and what the victim said later in formal statements, and between recordings of the victim’s demeanour and assumptions of victimhood.
- The effectiveness of BWCs was, at times, hampered by practical, logistical and material problems both in the technology itself and the infrastructure supporting it. The ‘pooled use’ of BWCs, in particular, was viewed as increasing the likelihood that cameras would not function as intended.
- Effective deployment of BWCs at domestic abuse incidents carries significant technological,resource and policy challenges for police and partners. The scale of the task, to create and sustain efficient and effective ‘end-to-end’ processes, from ‘incident to courtroom’, is sizable and requires considerable ‘frontline’, ‘middle’ and ‘back office’ support.
Research authored by: Stuart Lister, Dan Burn and Jose Pina-Sanchez (University of Leeds)
Featured image courtesy of West Yorkshire Police