Body worn video results in more charges for domestic abuse

Crime scene home domestic abuse body worn video

If body worn video is used by police officers attending domestic abuse incidents, the number of people charged can go up significantly.

This is the conclusion of a study conducted by the College of Policing and Essex Police, which convinced the police to invest in 400 more body worn cameras.

Results of the world-first trial of body worn video (BWV) by officers attending domestic abuse incidents were unveiled at the College of Policing national Building Evidence, Delivering Practice conference recently.

To test the impact that BWV had on criminal justice outcomes, such as securing convictions, some officers went to domestic abuse incidents wearing the cameras, while others went without the equipment for the four month trial from January to May.

The outcomes of the incidents attended were tracked, both groups of officers were surveyed and camera-wearing officers were interviewed to establish the impact of the cameras.

Results show there was a significantly higher proportion of people charged with an offence when officers wore cameras, compared with other sanctions such as a penalty or community resolution, suggesting issuing officers with BWV could be effective in increasing the proportion of detections that were criminal charges.

Where officers wore a camera, 81 per cent of the sanctions issued were charges, compared to 72 per cent when officers did not wear the equipment.

Officers who took part in the trial noted the benefits of capturing the context, comments, emotions and injuries when attending domestic abuse incidents. BWV can also be used to accurately record the layout of a scene or damage caused during the incident.

The randomised control trial revealed there were practical limitations to the cameras. Officers reported they could be difficult to turn on and off; they did not work well in poor lighting; they got caught in seatbelts and the angle of the camera meant it was not always filming what they wanted at the scene.

But when officers were later surveyed, half of them said the cameras increased their confidence to secure a conviction because the equipment could give more detail than a statement could capture.

Officers also found the cameras brought a feeling of increased accountability, which made them more mindful of their behaviour.

Superintendent Trevor Roe of Essex Police, who co-presented the results with Catherine Owens an Evidence and Evaluation Advisor for the College, told conference delegates the trial had provided the evidence base for investing in 400 more cameras for officers across both Essex and Kent force areas.

He said: “Use of the cameras helps us to capture best evidence which will help us to increase prosecutions. The new cameras will be used by frontline teams in areas that have been identified as being key areas across the county where they will have greatest effect.

“These are areas which have higher levels of incidents relating to night time economy issues, domestic abuse and issues with serious and violent crime.”

College of Policing Chief Executive, Chief Constable Alex Marshall said: “Domestic abuse is an appalling crime. The College of Policing is determined to help equip the police with the skills, knowledge and tools to achieve the highest professional standards in this priority area of policing.

“There have been positive indications from the use of body worn cameras so far and studies such as this will help us learn more about its advantages, risks, and how to overcome practical implementation issues. Though focussed on one specific area of crime, this research is an important step in building an evidence base that can help us understand how body worn video can contribute to good policing.”

In her keynote address to the conference, Home Secretary Theresa May, said: “The College of Policing is building an evidence base of what works so that in future police practice is always based on evidence, and not habit.

“This is exactly the type of research which contributes to a better understanding of what works so that we can put a stop to this devastating crime.

“Research such as this is invaluable if we are to catch more perpetrators, and protect the public,” May said.

The Essex Body Worn Video Trial: The impact of Body Worn Video on criminal justice outcomes of domestic abuse incidents (PDF)

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