20 August 2020
Forces should consider releasing police officers’ body-worn video (BWV) footage to help protect them from unfair criticism and trial by media.
That is the view of Derbyshire Police Federation chair Tony Wetton.
Tony was supporting comments made by John Apter, the national chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales, who has said forces need to try to redress the balance in response to the growing trend of officers being vilified when selective clips of their interactions with the public are shared on social media and then by the mainstream media.
“These clips often show just a brief part of a much longer interaction and this can obviously skew the perception of what officers have said and done,” says Tony.
“To give a more accurate and balanced view of what has actually taken place, you need to see the full BWV footage and this is what we, as a Federation, believe should be put out in the public domain where possible.
“As it stands, many of the clips shared by the public are serving to damage the reputation of police officers and, in turn, undermine people’s faith in the police service as a whole.”
The national Federation chair has requested a meeting with Martin Hewitt, chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, and Mike Cunningham, chief executive officer at the College of Policing, to discuss his concerns about the clips that are now regularly appearing on social media and in the media.
“These snippets rarely show the full facts,” says John, “They are purposefully selective in what they show and can be incredibly damaging for public confidence in policing, as inevitably some people will believe the one-sided story often presented.
“At a time when officers are doing their absolute best in difficult and trying circumstances, this unfounded and unfair criticism often leads to trial by media and is totally unacceptable. They are simply damned if they do and damned if they don’t.”
The national chair added: “In these volatile cases where short clips are used against policing and police officers across all media, resulting in complaints against our members, we want Professional Standard Departments to expedite these investigations. In the event of the officer or officers being exonerated and, once the investigation has concluded in its entirety, we would urge forces to publicly release the BWV footage to redress the balance. I believe there is an urgent need for this to happen.
“I fully accept that it might not always be possible to release the BWV footage but doing nothing is not an option. We must take the necessary action to protect police officers from unfair vilification, as well as ensuring that public confidence in policing is not undermined.”
John said BWV was one of the biggest advances in policing in the last decade, allowing evidence to be collected but also capturing the full context of police interactions and showing the realities of policing.
Research led by the University of Cambridge’s Institution of Criminology shows BWV is associated with a 93 per cent reduction in complaints against police officers. The cameras are also a useful deterrent for those who may be considering assaulting an officer, as their actions will be caught on camera.