Technology is the future of Stop and Search

The US town of Ferguson has been rocked by rioting and civil unrest after a jury decided not to bring charges over the death of a black teenager Michael Brown who was fatally shot by a white police officer, Darren Wilson, on 9 August.

The case inflamed racial tensions in the U.S. Officer Darren Wilson told ABC News that he had a ‘clear conscience’, stating he’d acted according to his training. The parents of Michael Brown say they ‘don’t believe a word’ of police officer Darren Wilson’s account of the shooting. For the black community of Ferguson, the shooting of Michael Brown was the last straw in a catalogue of abuses they feel they’ve suffered at the hands of the local police.

The ability to record and store live footage on the beat has enormous potential to build better relationships with communities, speed up the justice process and offer greater protection to both victims and officers. Recording stop and search situations gives a clearer, objective view of the incident, so neither party involved can offer a biased view of the situation.

With the new stop and search code of conduct recently released, and welcomed by The Equality Human Rights Commission wearable video and recording devices are set to have a huge impact on the implementation and handling of these new regulations.

The ability to record and store live footage on the beat has enormous potential to build better relationships with communities, speed up the justice process and offer greater protection to all sides. Recording stop and search situations gives a clearer, objective view of the incident, so neither party involved can offer a biased view of the situation.

For me, the most effective and efficient use of wearable video, devices should be used at the right time for the right reasons – rather than an “always on” approach. Both parties involved in a stop and search should know that the information recorded will not be tampered with, and officers must trust that the technology will not be used as a method of “keeping tabs” on them. Primarily, the technology should be used to build trust with officers and make their jobs easier.

The use of body worn video in policing is nothing new. Last May the MET Police announced that they were trialling 500 devices across 10 London Boroughs. And a 2013 trial by New Hampshire Police found that when video is used, early guilty pleas are more likely. In fact they saw 90% of arrests turned to convictions during the trial.

So what’s causing this upturn in convictions? The watchful eye of a camera during a stop and search routine can reduce the possibility of a search becoming more serious. Making sure devices are visible – so all parties know they are being recorded – has the potential to change the demeanour of both the recorded and the recorder. Plus, the recorded footage can give insight into complaints of profiling or aggressive behaviour after the event.

The storage of recorded footage is a key issue to consider when implementing body worn video, as it has the biggest potential to increase the efficiency of your force. As data needs to be hosted for a minimum of 30 days and in some cases up to 100, costs can rise quickly – with an hour’s recording taking up 2GB. However, with the right data planning and policies, forces can quickly understand how to determine what footage meets evidential requirements, and subsequently delete any footage that does not.

That said, I believe technology is only half the solution. Officers must be given the right information and training to feel comfortable and confident using the equipment in the field. It’s important to set guidelines on how and when cameras should be used, and define the policies and processes that will best protect our officers and our communities.