Police Scotland call for increase in police body cams

Police Scotland claims increasing the number of body cameras for its officers could speed up court cases in the country by leading to an upturn in the proportion of defendants making guilty pleas.

A recent BBC article claims this would lead to the backlog caused by Covid-19 lockdowns and restrictions being eased more rapidly.

500 of Police Scotland’s firearms officers will wear the small cameras at the UN Climate Change Conference in November and the force is now canvassing the public to determine their view on whether the technology should be rolled out on a national scale.

Chief Superintendent Matt Richards believes equipping 10,000 officers and staff with the devices will improve safety, accountability, and evidential quality.

Comparing the potential of body-worn videos to elicit confessions with the efficiency of breathalyser tests, he remarked that the latter encourage aberrant drivers to confess their drinking because of “the irrefutable technology”.

Assaults on Scotland’s police increased by 6.3% in 2020-21 to 6,942 incidents, many of which were coronavirus-related threats such as coughing and spitting.

Research headed by the University of Cambridge in 2014 and 2015 found complaints against UK and US police officers reduced by 93% because of the cameras, a shift the academics suggested was a result of civilians modifying their behavior in the knowledge they were being filmed.

Campaigners hope the same will be true of police officers after body camera footage has revealed several cases of them exercising excessive force in both countries.

The lead author on the research team, Dr Barak Ariel, is confident the cameras will be instrumental in making policing more transparent, saying recordings can be “subsequently reviewed, scrutinised and submitted as evidence.”

At the current time in Scotland it is only officers stationed in Police Scotland’s North East division who wear the cameras, whereas in a 2020 report Dame Elish Angiolini explained police based in England and Wales were using approximately 80,000 cameras in the course of their duties. They have also been trialled by ambulance crews, prison officers and traffic wardens.

In response to concerns around data protection, privacy and proper use, Ch Supt Richards said officers warn people when they turn the cameras on and pledged they will adhere to all guidelines and legislation.

The chairman of the Scottish Parliament justice subcommittee on policing, John Finnie, has called for “full transparency and due process” in the police force’s distribution of the cameras.

The public consultation opened on 1 June 2021 and will run for three months.

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