The camera never lies

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Body worn cameras are increasingly being issued to staff at risk of violence and aggression, providing both a visible deterrent to potential aggressors and a means of reassurance to vulnerable employees.

Over the past 20 years law enforcement agencies around the world have pioneered the use of body worn cameras. This trend was given a boost in 2016 when research by Cambridge University found that police equipped with this technology received 93 per cent fewer complaints from the public. This also piqued the interest of other sectors that felt they too could benefit from technology that kept their employees and the public at large safer.

Growth spurt

As well as the police and emergency services, enforcement officers, public transport staff, security officers, traffic wardens, parking attendants, healthcare professionals, delivery drivers, postal workers and those employed in the retail sector are just some of those benefiting from this technology. Earlier this year, under new rules from the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA), even driving test examiners are now wearing them to tackle abuse!

Enforcement officers, public transport staff, police and security officers are just some of the roles where body worn cameras are being deployed. Photograph: Reliance Protect

If the first few months of 2023 are anything to go by, this could be the year that body worn cameras reach mass acceptance. To give an indication of the growth of this sector, the market was valued at $1.62 billion in 2020 and is expected to reach $424.63 billion by 2026, according to a 2021 report from 360 Research.

Benefit check

So, what are the key drivers in the uptake in the use of body worn cameras? Perhaps the primary one is their deterrent effect, as people tend to be far less aggressive if they know they could be recorded. This leads into the presence of body worn cameras being an effective de-escalation tool.

When confronting someone who is exhibiting antisocial behaviour, people can be trained in how to calmly but firmly inform them that they will be filmed, and what the evidence will be used for should they decide to continue.

In most cases this will be enough to calm things down. However, if a situation escalates, video and audio footage provides powerful objective evidence of the situation which can subsequently be used as evidence if legal action is required.

The latest body worn cameras can also live stream footage that can be accessed by authorised individuals in a customer organisation or by an alarm receiving centre (ARC), where incidents can be monitored as they happen, enabling faster decisions on the most effective course of action.

Chris Allcard is Lone worker services director at Reliance Protect

Video and audio footage can also be used to highlight training gaps, analyse conflict management techniques and improve operational practices.

In the line of fire
A number of studies demonstrate the effectiveness of body worn cameras. In mental health environments, the potential for incidents to lead to serious injury is something that must be mitigated. So, in 2017, Northamptonshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust decided to carry out research into the feasibility of using this technology in an inpatient mental health setting.

Sixty staff were issued with body worn cameras and, as a direct result, the number of violent incidents and emergency restraints decreased on three out of the five wards, with staff and patients voicing overwhelming support for the use of the devices. Sixty one per cent of the 40 staff that used the cameras said they could prevent confrontational situations because staff behaved more professionally, while 83 per cent of patients said they improved safety for both staff and patients.

Retail therapy

Likewise, a 2022 survey by the Retail Trust questioned 1,000 retail staff and found that two-thirds think verbal and physical attacks have got worse in the past two years. Concerned about the rising levels of violence and aggression towards its staff, a leading retailer with over 1,000 convenience stores and newsagents across England, Scotland and Wales decided to take action by undertaking a trial of body worn cameras.

A post-trial questionnaire was produced and, although 58 per cent of staff questioned felt unsafe while at work prior to the trial starting, 81 per cent said that the body worn cameras had improved their safety, with 91 per cent wanting to carry on using them. 42 per cent of those believed they had decreased incidents and 72 per cent felt safer wearing them.

In a survey of retail staff, 81 per cent said that the body worn cameras had improved their safety. Photograph: Reliance Protect

More than meets the eye

Many new cameras coming to the market are light and compact, unobtrusive and can be easily attached to clothing. They record in 1080p or 4k high definition, have improved low light performance and are robust with high ingress protection (IP) ratings, so they can be worn out in all weathers and conditions.

Live stream and footage upload options, with connectivity via 4G/5G, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, and a long battery charge life, are also increasingly important to widen the scope of user applications.

The latest cameras also offer plug and play functionality which eliminates the need for complex installation and ongoing maintenance. Encryption of footage on the camera and during the footage upload process is an extra security measure that prevents unauthorised access to the footage, and the latest cameras have accurate (GPS) location information capabilities, which allows the wearer’s location to be identified during ‘live’ events and recorded for future analysis and use.

In lone working scenarios, body worn cameras are often used in conjunction with lone worker devices and smartphone apps. However, depending on the user circumstances and the capabilities of the camera, it may be unnecessary and uneconomical to adopt both. Cameras with the ability to live stream video alarms and featuring GPS location capabilities that can be transmitted with the live stream footage can often negate the need to utilise a separate lone worker device or smartphone app.

Near and far

Body worn cameras can be purchased outright or as part of a managed service leasing or rental agreement allowing for regular equipment upgrades. Likewise, video footage can either be managed and stored ‘on the premises’ (i.e. on computer servers) or through a cloud-based storage service with a secure online portal.

In lone working scenarios, body worn cameras are often used in conjunction with lone worker devices and smartphone apps. Photograph: Reliance Protect

The storage and management of the footage created should have equal importance when considering the type of body worn camera solution to adopt. The cameras themselves are only one part of the solution.

To manage the footage securely, key areas to consider include where the footage is stored, who can access, edit, delete and share it, and how it is shared. ‘On-premise’ solutions are increasingly costly.

They usually require significant capital expenditure on the purchase and ongoing maintenance of servers, software licences, scalability of storage requirements and ensuring the resilience of the data held, including back-ups.

This is why companies are increasingly turning to the convenience, scalability and resilience of the cloud to manage the storage of footage. Moreover, Reliance Protect estimates that savings of 15 per cent are possible when using cloud-based storage compared with more traditional on-premise solutions.

Secure online portals allow organisations to tightly control access, editing, video sharing and deletion rights. For example, hospital ward managers can only access video footage from their respective wards without deletion rights, while central security management staff can be granted full access to footage across an entire estate. Access can be via desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone.

Simple to use editing features such as redaction, adding text boxes, magnifying elements, cropping down footage, muting audio etc, negate the need to export footage into third-party editing software applications, thereby saving time and further costs, but also eliminating the information security risks associated with footage being transported and stored in multiple places.

Legitimate interest

The BS 8593:2017 Code of Practice for the Deployment and Use of Body Worn Video is a useful starting point when embarking on a rollout of this technology. It covers the 12 guiding principles of the Surveillance Camera Code of Practice, which aims to ensure that the purpose
of a rollout is justifiable, appropriate and proportionate to the requirements of the person wearing it, while the privacy of those being recorded is respected.

It states that the devices should be conspicuous when being worn, with warning stickers and flashing lights used when recording.

In addition, an organisation should conduct a thorough Data Privacy Impact Assessment (DPIA) prior to introducing body worn camera solutions and introduce operational processes and procedures to ensure robust management and adherence to information security policies.

For example, footage that is not linked to an incident or investigation should only be stored in line with wider organisation deletion policies, typically 31 days.

Safe and secure

Since the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), all organisations need to implement strong operational policies to keep information safe. They must also ask the right questions about how a prospective security partner deals with, and processes data, where it is stored and who has access to it. The answers to these questions and more besides should become apparent through the completion of the DPIA.

Likewise, the DPIA should cover the cloud service being utilised. Will data be stored only in the UK? Is the cloud service provider certified to ISO 27001? What cybersecurity measures are being adopted?

It is often recommended to adopt a data sharing agreement with the supplier. This should clarify roles and responsibilities and define key data sharing processes.

Joined-up thinking

The use of body worn cameras should be welcomed and encouraged for a large range of public facing roles. The deterrent and de-escalation effects of these devices is certainly driving adoption, while secure cloud-based storage that ensures increased resilience and security of data is eliminating ongoing storage capacity and resilience concerns.

For further information see:

Chris Allcard is Lone worker services director at Reliance Protect


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