Police forces increasingly use body cameras to log incidents, capture exchanges, and provide valuable evidence that can be used in a prosecution – but they are not mandatory, nor are they used by every officer.
Many UK police forces are now issuing officers with body cameras, primarily patrol officers. Other road-based police use dashboard cams within their vehicles, which give supporting information to tackle road traffic accidents and dangerous or reckless driving.
Cameras can also be turned on and off, so even if a police officer has a camera on their uniform or within their body armour, they won’t normally leave this recording 24/7. Instead, cameras are turned on when an incident unfolds or an officer is called out.
Body Cameras as a Crime Prevention Resource
Policies for security body cameras vary between police forces, often dependent on the nature of the area under patrol. City centres and towns with higher than average volumes of crime, theft, drunk and disorderly behaviour, or vandalism may have more beat officers conducting foot patrols with live camera recording.
The Metropolitan Police instructs officers to activate a camera at the beginning of a potential issue and keep recording until the incident has been resolved.
Cameras record on a 60-second rolling loop but without audio. Officers can delete the recording if the incident de-escalates or requires no follow-up action and only record if they press a button – this means that members of the public that interact with a police officer will rarely be captured on a stored video.
A flashing red light appears in the middle of the camera device, and the officer must notify anybody present that they are being recorded, balancing data privacy with the need to record evidence of any criminal activity.
Situations When Police Will Activate a Body Camera
Body cameras are somewhat discretionary – forces with larger budgets or more foot patrols are more likely to issue a larger proportion of their workforce with cameras.
Reasons an officer might activate a camera include:
- Arresting somebody
- Conducting a search of a property or vehicle
- Attending an emergency incident or domestic abuse situation
- Using force to enter a property or apprehend a suspect
- Carrying out a stop and search
- Ordering a car to stop
Cameras act as independent witnesses, recording the exchange from both perspectives as an autonomous account of what happened. This footage can be used as court evidence or to reduce the likelihood of a false claim.
How Many UK Police Forces Use Body Cameras?
Police first wore body cameras in the UK in 2005, when the police launched a trial in Devon and Cornwall. The promising outcomes led to a much larger pilot in London in 2014, with 500 cameras distributed to police across the London boroughs.
Today there are around 80,000 active body cameras used by police forces, according to the BBC, and they are a prevalent source of information during police complaints investigations.
Police Scotland also issued 500 cameras to armed officers in 2021, influenced by the successful police response to the terrorist attack in Fishmonger’s Hall, where body camera footage captured the full police response and eventual shooting of the attacker.
Now, there are tens of thousands of body cameras worn by police and emergency responders, but they are also widely used in:
- Pubs and nightlife venues
- Ambulance crews
- Events management
- Security guards
- Traffic wardens
- Commercial sites
- Retail centres
- Prison officers
- Construction and development teams
- Highways workforces
There have even been applications in schools and colleges where high levels of disruption, violence or false accusations against teachers led to body cameras being introduced as a fail-safe way to protect all concerned.
Cameras were shown to tackle bullying, anti-social behaviour, and abuse, with a recording as evidence to safeguard teachers.
The Advantages of Body Cameras in a Security Setting
Initial pilots, research projects and data have shown body cameras to be highly effective, and more so in commercial settings or to reduce incidents such as petty crime, break-ins, and theft, rather than to address more serious criminal offences.
Many police forces now use body cameras for specialist teams, such as foot patrol teams or armed response crews, or as an optional piece of equipment to add to uniforms and body armour.
However, the biggest success story relates to businesses, which are more likely to experience vandalism, thefts, and other crimes such as shoplifting. We have summarised some of the most important benefits below.
Formal complaints can be costly, stressful, and deeply upsetting for an accused staff member. While businesses must investigate genuine complaints thoroughly, a large proportion are made vindictively to gain compensation or offset responsibility for an accident to somebody else.
Body cameras reduce complaints by 93% – reflecting the volume of false or fraudulent claims.
Managers and supervisors use body camera footage to support police action to prosecute criminals, identify vehicle and tool thefts, and in-house thefts where staff or visitors steal inventory, tools, or cash.
Camera evidence is indisputable and impartial, so it can act as a powerful resource during tribunals, court proceedings, dismissal cases, or civil cases.
Businesses also use body camera footage to analyse potential health and safety issues, address safe working concerns, monitor footfall and site management processes and ensure all workers, visitors, or site users adhere to organisational policies.
Trying to investigate an allegation or incident where it is the word of one party against another can be challenging, especially where the allegation is serious and there are no independent witnesses to corroborate the facts.
Car parks are a key example, where it might be impossible to know which driver acted aggressively and who is liable for the damage caused.
Camera footage is used for internal audit purposes and investigations and speeds up the process without the additional need to further research the incident or try to reach an agreeable outcome.
The use of body cameras throughout UK police forces demonstrates the effectiveness of this simple piece of equipment, deterring prospective criminals, de-escalating aggression, and ensuring security teams have a full record of any problems to refer back to.