Body-worn video rips fabric of trust.

A number of British police forces are rolling out body-worn video (BMV). Officers are able to record audio and video of their interactions with the public, providing what many consider to be valuable additional evidence to corroborate police statements in court. Of course, it cuts both ways and defendants can support a case against an officer’s testimony.

Used in some European countries, BMV systems are also deployed in parts of the USA, with the first arrest on record using evidence from Google Glass worn by a police officer who had been able to stream his view of an incident back to his HQ (New Scientist).

The American Civil Liberties Union has given a measure of backing. They recognize a tension between giving officers control of the record button but not being in a position to edit on the fly – leaving a partial record of an incident that suits their purposes.

There are multiple issues around BMV but if a system were ‘always-on’ the volume of data gathered on a shift could be stored but would scoop up information about people going about their lawful business, especially if police are making enquiries door-to-door. From the police side it is easy to envisage a chilling effect on officers’ freedom of discretion. It’s not a bad thing that police supervisors (and the historical record) aren’t always breathing down a professional officer’s neck.

Perhaps even more concerning is Mike Tonge’s observation that BMV could diminish trust in uncorroborated police testimony. If people assume the availability of a video record then what about those occasions when none was made? (The Guardian) We will lose something rather important if no police officer’s word is trusted. This is not to say that every officer is invariably truthful – just that the fabric of trust we rely upon receives yet more rips if corroboration by video evidence becomes our assumption of normality.

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