RLC obtains standard operating procedures guiding the use of police body-worn video cameras

Redfern Legal Centre (RLC) has obtained a copy of NSW Police Force ‘Body-Worn Video Camera Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)’, which guide police in the lawful use of Body-Worn Video (BWV) cameras.

Previously withheld from the public domain, the SOPs were obtained by RLC after successful application in the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT).

RLC has raised a number of concerns following the widespread rollout of technology in 2014, including that the guidelines governing the use of BWV cameras were not publicly available.

Samantha Lee, lawyer and head of Police Accountability practice at Redfern Legal Centre states, “The release of these SOPs is a win for public interest and police accountability.

The public should be informed about the practice police are required to use in dealing with them as members of the public.”

Outlined below is a brief summary of the Standard Operating Procedures:

  • BWV is worn by uniform and plain clothed police
  • The use of BWV is discretionary. It is up to individual officer to decide if they wish to turn on or keep off based on their own judgment
  • It is up to the officer’s discretion whether BWV footage is to be made available to an accused or legal representative
  • Police may record public or private conversations
  • Police can film strip searches
  • Police should use discretion regarding vulnerable persons: children, people with a disability, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
  • Police do not require consent to commence recording. But if a person objects to recording it is best practice for the officer to record the objection
  • It is up to individual officers as to whether they will ‘tag’ BWV as an “incident” of evidentiary value. If the BWV is not tagged, the BWV is not classified as an “incident” and the footage is deleted and destroyed after 6 months
  • It is up to police to decide if footage contains anything of evidentiary value and anything relevant to the offence, which is based on whether the evidence will assist with the strength of the prosecution’s case
  • Police can seek to have their own image redacted prior to release if they have any concerns
  • Witness are also recorded
  • Critical incidents must be tagged, but again there is still discretionary as to whether to turn on the BWV. A critical incident is one involving a member of the NSW Police Force which has resulted in the death of or serious injury to a person
  • Only if the prosecution is relying on BWV footage as part of their evidence the police must produce copies as part of Brief of Evidence
  • No guidelines as to what is considered an incident
  • No clear guidelines about when should police retain BWV due to a potential complaint.

Speaking to the Guardian following the public release of the SOPs, Samantha Lee said:

“[The Redfern Legal Centre] believes police discretion to activate [the cameras] should be removed and for there to be robust operational guidelines around activation, tagging, retention and release to promote greater police accountability and transparency.”

See also

NSW police are told to film strip searches, documents reveal (Michael McGowan, The Guardian, 2 August 2019)