Belfast Telegraph

Use of police body cameras hailed, but can PSNI afford them?

By Chris Kilpatrick

The use of body-worn cameras should be rolled out across the police force in Northern Ireland to boost transparency and help the fight against domestic abuse, a security watchdog has said.

However, concerns have been raised over the PSNI's ability to pay for such a move.

Security powers reviewer David Seymour recommended progress in improving transparency and explanation of the use of stop and search powers; the introduction of body-worn cameras and improved relations with young people. A six-month pilot scheme was recently carried out in Londonderry with 48 of the cameras used. The cost of the trial was £40,000.

To fully implement the use of the cameras would cost up to £1.65m, followed by further costs of £480,000 over four years.

The equipment is used primarily in cases of domestic abuse, public disorder and traffic offences.

While Mr Seymour said there were some issues around the use of the cameras, he said it would be "a pity if this important safeguard could not be introduced due to budgetary constraints".

"There are clear advantages in using a body-worn camera," he said. "It provides an accurate record of an incident. It protects the police against spurious allegations and intimidation by members of the public and generally appears to improve behaviour of all concerned.

"There are, however, issues surrounding the use of body-worn cameras. Some members of the public will no doubt allege that the PSNI behaved badly when the camera was switched off, and if the use became standard practice, defence lawyers would challenge any evidence which is not recorded when it could have been."

Mr Seymour also noted that parts of the community, including many young people, were wary of and police contact.

"More than one person operating at community level told me that the progress and hard work of months can unravel in minutes if a single PSNI intervention goes wrong," he said.

Mr Seymour also reported that loyalist resentment about the policing of the 2013 flag protests still persists. He said many demonstrators against restrictions on the flying of the Union flag from Belfast City Hall felt they had been unfairly arrested.

Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd said: "Engagement with communities is at the core of keeping people safe. The PSNI have always committed significant thought and effort into sustaining and building relationships with every community."

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