RLC in the Media: Concerns raised over police body worn video decision

An internal review examining the use of police Body Worn Video (BWV) in NSW has concluded police should retain discretion about when to activate their BWV cameras, citing privacy concerns.

But RLC solicitor Samantha Lee says that it is in everyone's interest that all police interactions with the public are recorded. 

Damien Carrick reports for the Law Report, ABC Radio National. 

In recent years, BWV cameras have been distributed to police officers in many parts of the world.  In NSW, a review of the legal framework around the use of BWV has just been released by the state’s Department of Communities and Justice. The main recommendation is that NSW Police should continue to have discretion about when to activate video recordings.

In their submissions to the review, the NSW Law Society and Legal Aid both argued that police should be required to activate BWV Cameras in certain situations.  The Aboriginal Legal Centre and the Redfern Legal Centre went further arguing that all interactions between the police and the public should be recorded. 

Redfern Legal Centre Police Accountability Solicitor Samantha Lee says that it is in everyone's interest for police to record. 

“It can be useful for both parties.  Useful in terms of better transparency. In regards to policing practice, it can support the accounts of either party in regards to any complaints against police,” Ms Lee said. 

“The problem at the moment is that discretion leaves too much in the mind of an individual police officer to decide whether an incident is occurring or whether a police power is being initiated”.

Ms Lee described one client’s experience when five police were called to a property and firearms were drawn.  After lodging an application to gain access to BWV footage, Redfern Legal Centre was informed that none of the officers had their body worn cameras turned on. 

“Obviously this is a huge concern, particularly where firearms are drawn.  It should be automatic that BWV footage is turned on in those circumstances and it certainly would have benefited our client if we were able to see exactly what had occurred.” 

In their submissions, NSW Police and NSW Police Association raised a number of concerns with constant recording including the danger it could identify undercover police officers or that it could capture interactions with very vulnerable people, encouraging them not to interact with police. 

However, Ms Lee responded that: “The main premise we go back to is that police have enormous amounts of power and with that power comes enormous responsibility.  When it comes to complaints against police you usually have one person’s word against two or three police officers and it makes it extremely difficult to get across the line.”

Redfern Legal Centre is disappointed with the findings of the internal review but will continue to advocate for legislative change in this area to ensure members of the public have adequate recourse for addressing police complaints.

As Ms Lee concluded: “Footage can speak a thousand words”.  

Listen to the full interview here: (ABC Law Report, 25 August 2020)