On Monday, the Metropolitan Police Service started the roll-out of what it believes to be the largest deployment of body-worn cameras, or Body Worn Video (BWV) devices, for police anywhere in the world. In all, the force will be issuing cameras to over 22,000 police officers.
The move is the latest in a growing trend of law enforcement using body-worn cameras, which, according to the MPS, offers greater transparency to those in front of the camera as well as behind it.
"The use of BWV will be 'incident specific,'" an MPS spokesperson told Motherboard in an email. "An officer will switch it on to capture a specific incident and stop filming when it's no longer necessary or proportionate. It will not be used to film Londoners indiscriminately."
According to the spokesperson, those sort of incidents include stop and searches, both of individuals and vehicles; making arrests; searching premises; domestic abuse; and giving an order to a group or individual under any statutory power. There isn't a banned list of instances in which officers are not allowed to film, but an officer may make a judgement call as to whether they decide to use their camera or not; perhaps, a spokesperson said, "in a hospital with vulnerable patients or an informant giving confidential information."
While in standby mode, the cameras keep a 30 second buffer of film, with no audio, so when actual recording starts, the previous 30 seconds are also captured, the MPS explained. According to an MPS press release, a flashing red circle on the device, as well as a frequent beeping noise, will indicate when filming is taking place.
Footage from the cameras is uploaded to a server once the device has been docked, and flagged either as a piece of evidence, or for a policing purpose, the press release adds. Video that hasn't been flagged is automatically deleted within 31 days.
Members of the public can request footage under freedom of information or data protection laws, the press release continues. Under the Freedom of Information Act, the MPS has 20 business days to respond to a request. However, the force regularly misses this deadline. With that in mind, it is not clear whether, when a FOIA request is made, that the respective footage will be quickly preserved, to ensure that it isn't deleted during a request's processing.
"There are no plans currently to change how FOI's are dealt with as a result of the introduction of BWV," a spokesperson told Motherboard.
In 2014, the MPS launched a pilot for body worn cameras, which consisted of 500 cameras being distributed to 10 London boroughs. This full rollout will deliver cameras to all 32 boroughs, as well as a number of other specialist roles, including firearms officers, the press release reads.
The use of body-worn cameras has recently increased: In the US, the footage has faced increased scrutiny after a long series of killings of unarmed black men by police officers. In the UK, a 2015 report recommended that police should film all stop and search encounters, amid accusations of racist use of the powers.
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