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Belfast police officers begin wearing body cameras

Published 16/11/2016

Inspector Alan Swan wears a body camera at Musgrave police station in Belfast
Inspector Alan Swan wears a body camera at Musgrave police station in Belfast

Police officers in Belfast have switched on body-worn cameras for the first time as 400 video recorders are put into service in the city.

The roll-out of the evidence-gathering technology follows a successful pilot scheme in Foyle, where footage was used in a number of prosecutions.

The compact cameras, which attach to the front of police uniforms, are set to be introduced throughout Northern Ireland in a £1.5 million investment.

Police believe they will secure compelling, real time evidence of unfolding criminal situations.

Commanders think they will be of particular use in instances of domestic abuse, with the hope first-hand victim testimony will prove more powerful than written statements taken after the event.

As well as helping bring perpetrators to justice, the PSNI also points to research that indicates the technology helps avert confrontations before they happen, as people are inclined to moderate their behaviour when they realise the red record light is on.

Studies also suggest police officer conduct is less likely to elicit complaints when they are wearing the video equipment.

PSNI Chief Superintendent Chris Noble said the force is continuously striving to support the delivery of front-line policing.

"This includes the use of new and emerging technological solutions," he said.

"Video evidence puts the victims of crime first. The pilot of this technology in Foyle district evidenced how body-worn video has the potential to improve the quality of evidence provided by police officers and thereby increase the number of offenders brought to justice.

"Video evidence provides a compelling account of events and enables the raw emotion and action from a scene to be replayed in the courts in a manner that could never be captured in a witness statement.

"It also supports accountability and transparency, both of which are key elements in increasing public confidence in policing."

A total of 800 officers in Belfast have been trained in how to use the cameras. The units can record eight hours of continuous footage and non-evidential material will be deleted after 31 days.

The cameras will not record continuously when officers are on duty. They will instead use their judgment as to when to turn them on and off in response to the situation they are facing.

Anne Connolly, chair of the PSNI oversight body the NI Policing Board, said: "This technology has proven to be valuable in many policing situations.

"The evidential benefits it can bring in assisting the prosecution of case and particularly cases of domestic abuse is well documented."

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