Matthew Scott is the Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner for Kent.
Last year, Dr Rick Muir of the Police Foundation said that “PCCs have unlocked innovation in policing policy”, with our roles having “led to new ways of doing things”. I wrote last month about how we are influencing mental health policy – we are doing the same with technology, too.
The use of technology by police forces is absolutely vital if we are to prevent crime and catch criminals. This has to be done with the knowledge that it is taxpayers’ money they are using to invest, so the programmes must deliver on their objectives and represent good value for money. PCCs have a strong track record in terms of their approach to this.
My colleague Katy Bourne is delivering real change nationally through the Police ICT company and in her own area by launching the award-winning #NoPlaceForHate reporting app. If you live in Surrey or Essex, your PCCs and police forces have apps that educate residents on how calls to the police are resourced, in order to inform people about misuse of 999. David Lloyd in Hertfordshire has launched the Citizens’ Academy, an online education tool, and Jason Ablewhite in Cambridgeshire has invested in Drive iQ, which provides young people with a virtual experience of different driving situations they may find themselves in.
Kent and Essex Police have rolled out over 2,000 mobile devices to frontline officers, which will enable them to do more work out in local communities more quickly, and not require them to have to travel back to police stations as often, or spend time on the radio to the Control Room. It is estimated that when it gets its full functionality, this programme will save officers the equivalent of at least one hour of time per shift.
One piece of technology that has been supplied to thousands of officers nationally is body-worn video, with 60,000 devices set to be deployed by the end of this year. The technology was recently in the news again, because the Home Office is consulting on the possibility of allowing officers to record suspect interviews using the cameras, rather than have to go back to stations. Nick Hurd, the Policing Minister, said: “I want our police officers to have access to the best possible equipment, and to be able to use it to bring greater efficiency to frontline policing.”
Body-worn video is not a new concept – traffic wardens and others have had these devices for a decade – but they can deliver some positive benefits to those using them. We are now seeing prison officers get them, too. The investment by Matthew Ellis, the Staffordshire PCC, has been so successful that there is now a TV programme dedicated to it called Bodycam Squad. But these proposals are coming at a time when some are starting to question the benefit of this technology.
The benefits of the cameras that are often quoted include improving evidence quality, reducing assaults on officers, fewer frivolous complaints and moderating officer and public conduct. With an investment of this size, there will, rightly, be questions asked as to their efficacy and whether they are delivering against their objectives. After all, the £22.7million spent so far represents the equivalent of over 450 police officers for one year.
Big Brother Watch published a report earlier this year which said that police forces weren’t collecting sufficient data in order to justify their benefit and that a number of trials had failed to demonstrate the advertised benefits. As a Conservative, I do strongly believe in preserving individual freedom and privacy. As a society, we have to strike a very delicate balance between ensuring evidence is collected to help fight crime whilst at the same time ensure personal freedoms are not unduly infringed upon. However, as a PCC I work with the officers using this technology and currently am of the firm opinion that there are huge benefits in using body-worn video which, provided the evidence is collected, used, and destroyed within the prescribed rules, justifies their use.
A recent report by the Behavioural Insights Team, more commonly referred to as the “Nudge Unit” involved studying officers in Avon and Somerset in order to evaluate the cameras’ effectiveness. In the first study, they looked at domestic abuse and stop and search incidents. The results showed that the officers felt safer, and that the evidence they collected was better.
In the second study, they looked at absenteeism. They found that officers took on average 3.3 fewer days of sickness during a six month period, compared to those who did not have one. This fall was due to shorter spells rather than fewer occasions of absence. With stop and search, they also achieved more positive charging outcomes, particularly with regards to offences that included possession.
I can point to a number of practical changes that body-worn video has produced. In Kent, they have been able to proceed with victimless prosecutions more easily, meaning that we can protect more vulnerable people from harm by using the evidence collected on video. Where there has been pressure on CCTV services run by local councils, valuable evidence collected by body-worn video has been used in some cases instead. There have been more early guilty pleas, because the Kent unit allows officers to show alleged offenders what has been caught on tape. Whilst their benefit regarding police complaints has been challenged, Kent has seen many cases dealt with more quickly as a result of being able to corroborate stories, even if the impact on total volumes of complaints has not yet been measured.
Body-worn cameras have only been rolled out in the last few years, and so their use and effectiveness is yet to be fully weighed and measured. Though, as I have demonstrated, benefits have already been identified which were never envisioned when the cameras were first rolled out.
With the Government launching a consultation on expanding the use of body-worn cameras further, the continued use of this technology will continue to be under scrutiny, as it should be. The onus is very much on PCCs to continuously review the benefits and how the use of cameras can be refined, and/or expanded. For now, I am very supportive of their current use and am pleased that they have been rolled out across Kent for all Police Constables – the video below offers some further explanation of my view: