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UEL criminologist finds that body cameras are important part of the future of policing

Dr Mark Roycroft's findings support Met Police plan to provide cameras to officers

As London's Metropolitan Police reveals plans to provide its armed response units with 1,000 cameras that will be fitted to officers' baseball caps and ballistic helmets, a new book by a top police official-turned-University of East London (UEL) academic says that many of Britain’s senior police chiefs and commissioners believe these types of cameras can have a big impact on policing, justice, and safer neighbourhoods. 

Dr Mark Roycroft, a criminologist at UEL, said, “The use of body worn cameras (BWC) and video recorders was discussed by all police and crime commissioners and police chiefs I interviewed, with large numbers believing they could be used as a method to speed up the criminal justice system.
 
Dr Roycroft interviewed 35 senior police personnel in the UK for his new book Chiefs in the UK: Politicians, HR Managers or Cops?. The book contains a number of insights into police work, including a discussion on the body-mounted cameras used more and more by police officers. The cameras are referred to as body worn cameras in academic criminology circles.
 
Dr Roycroft said, “Camera footage can be good evidence and suspects plead guilty more often when an officer wears one, which means there is no need for cases to go to court for trial. This was noted by several of the senior police I interviewed.”

The Met, which is the UK's largest police force, has already issued body worn cameras  to officers in 30 of the city's 32 boroughs, as well as special units such as roads and transport. Officials announced in August that all armed officers would be outfitted with cameras. 
 
Some of the chiefs Dr Roycroft interviewed said that officers in rural areas felt the cameras improved safety. One commissioner said body worn cameras had led to a 50 per cent decrease in complaints against officers in his region. 
 
A 2016 British university study found a 93 per cent decrease in complaints made against officers clearly wearing the cameras.
 
Dr Roycroft's book says Cheshire Constabulary has been piloting body worn cameras in Warrington. Officials also purchased 1,700 Surface 3 Microsoft tablets to help officers process paperwork more efficiently. The tools provided an extra 340,000 hours of police time on the streets, equivalent to an extra 200 officers.
 
“The tablets mean incidents can be dealt with and processed there and then using the tablet. There’s no need to return to the station for paperwork,” explained Dr Roycroft, who spent 30 years in the Met Police and specialised in murder cases and counter-terrorism.
 
Body worn cameras are used by police services in Canada, Sweden, Hong Kong, England, and Australia. But it is London’s Met Police which is taking the global lead with over 22,000 body cameras issued to front-line police officers in London. It is thought to be the largest roll-out of the cameras anywhere in the world, and is expected to be fully complete by the end of October.

Dr Roycroft's books also explores other aspects of how police work is changing and adapting.
 
The Met police’s ‘Four Days in August’ (2012) report highlighted how the police have had to adapt very quickly to social media in protester situations. The report also noted a need for police to gather intelligence from social media and capture potential evidence on camera phones.
 
Dr Roycroft said, “Several police chiefs mentioned the need to deal with the demands of how new technology can affect public order, including groups like Occupy and anti-austerity marches.
 
One commissioner told Dr Roycroft that he hoped all police officers would soon have hand-held computers, so that police would not have to constantly return to the station to do paperwork, and could be more visible on the streets and in local communities.

Another police chief predicted there would soon be a ‘virtual police force’ with monster chat rooms, cyber security, online undercover officers and an improved intelligence system.