It was announced earlier this year that NSW police would be getting body cameras to be worn while on duty.
This follows moves in countries like England where police body cameras have reduced disputes about the nature of encounters between police and the public.
No longer did there need to be a dispute about what happened – the police version and the citizen’s version.
Just about everyone these days has a phone that functions as a camera and can be used to capture encounters with the police, including any misbehaviour by law enforcement officials.
It is completely legal to film police in public unless you are hindering them from doing their job.
No legislation has been passed to prevent members of the public from filming police.
Instead, it seems that with the introduction of body cameras, the police force is switching tactics to “if you can’t beat them, join them”
The NSW government has pledged over $4 million for body cameras and some have already been tested in regional NSW and elsewhere around the country.
The trials have shown a decrease in the amount of trivial claims against police and changes in the behaviour of the public once they knew they were being recorded – similar to results that have been seen in Britain.
Equally, they are an important safeguard against police brutality – provided that police ensure they are turned on at all times and the footage does not ‘disappear’.
More than 5,000 police in Britain already wear body cameras which are about the size of a cigarette packet. And British police have been eager to showcase the results!
One example was an intoxicated person who, after an altercation with police was seen on camera footage scratching his face with gravel and threatening to blame police for the incident.
He stopped when a police officer pointed out that he was being recorded.
What is captured on camera can be used as evidence in court.
Historically, visual recording has been an important safeguard against induced confessions.
Before the introduction of recordings for police interviewing, the culture of ‘verballing’ was a huge problem – and there have been numerous cases of police fabricating or forcing false confessions from suspects.
The requirement to record the interview process has largely eradicated this problem.
But proponents of the camera scheme hope it will improve public interactions between police and members of the public.
The Police Association of NSW states that both the community and the police force can benefit – no longer will a paper version be the only story that makes it to court, and vastly different accounts of altercations with police will hopefully be a thing of the past.
It looks like cameras will be a two way street.
If you act reasonably during police encounters, the recordings will prevent anyone from saying otherwise.
Of course, if you do not, what is filmed could be used against you in court.
On the other hand, police shown to be misbehaving will also be caught out.
Cameras on smartphones now regularly detect police using heavy-handed tactics against members of the public.
It seems that cameras on officers are likely to make them and us safer.
It is expected that over the next two years the measures will be rolled out across the state, starting first with the Public Order and Riot Squad, Police Transport Command and other ‘frontline’ police.