In the biggest trial of its kind, 500 London police officers will today be supplied with wearable cameras to record what they, and those around them, do.
The cameras, supplied by Taser, boast 130-degree field of view, record over 12 hours of continuous footage, and are tough enough to cope with being run over by a car. London's Metropolitan Police will distribute 50 cameras to each of 10 different boroughs—Barnet, Bexley, Bromley, Brent, Camden, Croydon, Ealing, Havering, Hillingdon, and Lewisham—and officers will be expected to turn them on when entering any difficult or contentious situation.
Speaking of the end goal of the trial, Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley has explained that the it is being undertaken"with a view to how to do it, not whether to do it." In other words, London police will all one day be wearing cameras; this is just a research project to work out the best way to go about reaching that end goal.
Certainly, it should improve many aspects of policing, helping collect evidence that could be missed, identify suspects in crowded situations and provide concrete video proof of how events actually unfold. To that end, a 30-second buffer is constantly being pre-recorded so that officers never miss the start of a situation. Ultimately, the goal is to streamline policing, making cases stronger and saving time on cases that shouldn't be proceeded with.
There is, of course, an obvious transparency that comes with rolling out cameras: police officers are obviously far more accountable when being filmed, and smaller trials in the U.S. have shown that complaints lodged and use of force both decrease when cameras are introduced. The Met is no doubt keen to capitalize on those effects.
There will, of course, be critics who worry that the introduction of wearable cameras is a further step towards a Big Brother state. The Metropolitan police is keen to point out that there are strict guidelines about what can be done with the video, though—footage is kept for a standard 31 days and then deleted unless it's needed—and that people can ask for the cameras to be switched off if that's what they want.
The new trial launched today and will run for one year. If it goes well, London's police could all soon find themselves carrying cameras. And it might not be long before that's true in the U.S., too. [Taser]
Image Joshua Stearns under Creative Commons license