Submission: Review of the Surveillance Devices Amendment (Police Body-Worn Video) Act 2014

RLC and the ALS have made a joint submission to the NSW Government Review of the Surveillance Devices Amendment (Police Body-Worn Video) Act 2014.

Background

Police body-worn cameras (BWCs) were first trialled in Australia in 2007, and were rolled out to frontline police officers across NSW in 2014, at a cost of $4 million. In support of the announcement, the Police and Emergency Services Minister at the time hailed the “very positive results” achieved by BWCs, despite the lack of published research supporting the expansion of their use. 

The stated objectives of the technology are not controversial: to create a contemporaneous record of observations and events in the field, thereby providing an independent accountability mechanism, and improved safety for both police officers and the public.

Since the widespread introduction of the technology, however, a number of concerns have been identified, including the rapid growth in its implementation, and the lack of research supporting its efficacy and cost efficiency. Research, in fact, suggests that BWCs do not reduce the use of excessive force by police; nor have they been proven to deter assaults on police wearing them, with some studies indicating their presence may actually provoke aggressive reactions from members of the public.

Summary of Submission

RLC and the ALS argue that operational and legislative changes are required to improve the capacity of police BWCs to promote police accountability and transparency.

Police discretion to activate is examined as one of the most significant impediments limiting the potential of BWCs to achieve the outcomes sought by their use. The joint submission points to the lack of publicly available information regarding the exercise of police discretion to activate the recording function of BWCs in NSW. Casework from both organisations reflects inconsistency in police decision-making in this context, resulting in a wide range of consequences for clients.

Examples provided by the case studies include situations where police BWCs are only activated at the time a person is arrested or apprehended following an extended interaction with police, meaning that no video record exists depicting actions of police which may have precipitated or exacerbated the situation. Other concerns include police failing to activate the recording function at all, with virtually no consequences for the selective exercise of discretion as to what will and will not be recorded.

The submission makes six recommendations aimed at minimizing some of these problems:

  1. Continuous recording of all police operated body worn cameras should be mandated.
  2. If continuous recording is not mandated, police discretion to activate body worn cameras is to be removed through the development of clear and robust activation guidelines.
  3. Activation guidelines should be made publicly available.
  4. Meaningful consequences for any breach of the activation guidelines should be introduced.
  5. Clear provisions concerning access to body worn camera footage for police and for complainants of police misconduct should be introduced.
  6. There should be rigorous ongoing monitoring of the implementation and use of police-operated body worn cameras and further reviews of its use conducted.

RLC and the ALS argue that these measures have the potential to improve policing practices, to restore community confidence in police, and to ensure that investigations into police misconduct are – and are seen to be – thorough, transparent, and fair.

Download the full submission below