Plans to fit all Scottish police officers with body cameras

Officers could soon be fitted with bodycams.
Officers could soon be fitted with bodycams.
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Body cameras could soon be worn by all of Scotland’s police officers under plans being considered by the national force, The Scotsman can reveal.

While the plans are at an early stage, there are warnings they would provoke opposition from rank and file officers who believe the money could be better spent elsewhere.

There’s no doubt that body cameras have a place as we try to equip officers with all the tools necessary to fight crime

Spokesman for Conservatives

Body-worn video (BWV) is already used by a small number of officers in the north-east of the country after being adopted by Grampian Police prior to the creation of Police Scotland in 2013.

However, the introduction of the technology at a national level has previously been ruled out on the basis of cost. The adoption of body-worn cameras by the larger Metropolitan Police is costing the London force around £1 million a year – the equivalent of about 40 new Police Scotland constables.

In a letter to MSPs, Deputy Chief Constable Iain Livingstone said: “The scoping exercise is currently ongoing and is at an early stage.

“It considers all aspects and benefits of a potential force-wide deployment of BWVs based on learning and evaluation from other police forces as well as our own trials in the north-east division of Police Scotland.

“Any consideration of a deployment of BWV would be preceded by a full public consultation exercise and as such, timescales at this time are unknown.”

Police Scotland’s former chief constable, Sir Stephen House, had previously given his backing to the technology but later said it was “some way off” due to cost.

READ MORE: Police Scotland facing elephant sized budget gap
But speaking at the launch of the force’s ten-year strategy in February, Chief Constable Phil Gormley hinted at a change in tack, saying the technology had “helpful benefits”.

He said: “There are a range of views on body-worn video and how it is used and how the information is stored. Evidence from elsewhere suggests that’s a conversation worth having.

“What you see is less demand in the courts because there are more guilty pleas; fewer complaints against police officers and you see an increase in trust and confidence.”

But Calum Steele, general secretary of the Scottish Police Federation, said there were concerns the technology could create a barrier between officers and the public.

He said: “There are many competing priorities at this moment in time and I would suspect that most police officers would rather see investment in technology – they would rather have working computers and radio batteries. A colleague of mine in ­Canada has described body-worn cameras as the ‘crack cocaine’ of the police service – once they buy them they are going to have to continue to pay for them regardless of the cost of the habit.”

Mr Steele said there was a “whole host of legal and data protection considerations” associated with the technology, which would add “additional complexities” to the job of a police officer.

He added: “There are privacy concerns. The technology changes the relationship between the police and the public and, indeed, the police and the courts. They are far from a panacea.”

Body-worn cameras are already used by 330 officers in the north-east of the country, where they are deployed on a “pooled” basis but not issued as a matter of routine.

Scottish Labour justice spokeswoman Claire Baker said the adoption of the technology in Scotland would have to be properly scrutinised.

She said: “We need to be cautious around the introduction of body-worn cameras.

“There are concerns that the current standard of equipment that police officers are using isn’t as good as they need it to be.”

A spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives added: “There’s no doubt that body cameras have a place as we try to equip officers with all the tools ­necessary to fight crime.

“But the concerns of the Scottish Police Federation have to be listened to.”

READ MORE: Police consulted on future of Police Scotland
The force is carrying out a “scoping exercise” looking at how the technology could be integrated into its existing IT framework.

While the plans are at an early stage, there is likely to be opposition from rank and file officers who believe the money could be better spent elsewhere.

Body-Worn Video (BWV) is already used by a small number of officers in the north-east of the country after being adopted by Grampian Police prior to the creation of Police Scotland in 2013.

However, the introduction of the technology at a national level has previously been ruled out on the basis of cost.

The adoption of body-worn cameras by the larger Metropolitan Police is costing the London force around £1m a year – the equivalent of around 40 new Police Scotland constables.

In a letter to MSPs, Deputy Chief Constable Iain Livingstone said: “The scoping exercise is currently ongoing and is at an early stage.

“It considers all aspects and benefits of a potential force-wide deployment of BWVs based on learning and evaluation from other police forces as well as our own trials in the north-east division of Police Scotland.

“Any consideration of a deployment of BWV would be preceded by a full public consultation exercise and as such, timescales at this time are unknown.”

Police Scotland’s former chief constable, Sir Stephen House, had previously given his backing to the technology but later said it was “some way off” due to cost.

But speaking at the launch of the force’s 10-year strategy in February, Chief Constable Phil Gormley hinted at a change in tack, saying the technology had “helpful benefits”.

He said: “There are a range of views on body-worn video and how it’s used and how the information is stored. Evidence from elsewhere suggests that’s a conversation worth having.

“What you see is less demand in the courts because there are more guilty pleas; fewer complaints against police officers and you see an increase in trust and confidence.”

But Calum Steele, general secretary of the Scottish Police Federation, said there were concerns the technology could create a barrier between officers and the public.

He said: “There are many competing priorities at this moment in time and I would suspect that most police officers would rather see investment in technology – they would rather have working computers and radio batteries.

“A colleague of mine in Canada has described body-worn cameras as the ‘crack cocaine’ of the police service – once they buy them they are going to have to continue to pay for them regardless of the cost of the habit.”

Mr Steele said there was a “whole host of legal and data protection considerations” associated with the technology, which would add “additional complexities” to the job of a police officer.

He added: “There are privacy concerns. The technology changes the relationship between the police and the public and, indeed, the police and the courts. They are far from a panacea.”

Body-worn cameras are already used by 330 officers in the north-east of the country, where they are deployed on a “pooled” basis but not issued as a matter of routine.

The technology is already used by forces in England, as well as those overseas.

Last year the Metropolitan Police announced the rollout of 22,000 cameras at a cost of £3.4m over three years.

The London force said the rollout was thought to be the largest of its kind anywhere in the world.

Scottish Labour justice spokeswoman Claire Baker said the adoption of the technology in Scotland would have to be properly scrutinised.

She said: “We need to be cautious around the introduction of body-worn cameras. There are concerns that the current standard of equipment that police officers are using isn’t as good as they need it to be. We need to consider that before looking at introducing something new.

“There are also concerns about how this would change the relationship between officers and the public. There would have to be a level of scrutiny and consultation ahead of any rollout.”

A spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives added: “There’s no doubt that body cameras have a place as we try to equip officers with all the tools necessary to fight crime.

“But the concerns of the Scottish Police Federation have to be listened to.

“We cannot embark on a rollout like this if it’s going to jeopardise public safety in other ways.”

Studies in the United States have suggested the use of body-worn cameras can reduce complaints against the police over the use of force.

However, researchers in Canada last year warned the technology was not a “magic bullet”, with little evidence to suggest it improves police accountability.

Martin Leven, Police Scotland’s director of IT, said: “Police Scotland continues to review all technology-enabled investment options in line with the force’s long-term strategic direction.

“We are currently looking at Body-Worn Video as a potential option for investment in line with our draft 10-year strategic plan which is currently out for consultation.”