Police to assess body camera use after domestic violence pilot scheme
Police are currently analysing if body cameras worn by officers responding to domestic violence callouts have been beneficial in cases where the victim does not want to give evidence.
A six-month pilot scheme launched in Londonderry earlier this year is due to finish at the end of this month.
Throughout the scheme body cameras have been attached to response officers' uniforms and have been used to record the immediate aftermath of a potential domestic abuse crime scene, and document initial statements made by the victim and alleged perpetrator.
District Judge Barney McElholm, who presides over Northern Ireland's only special listings courts for domestic abuse cases, said that although he haD yet to see footage from a body camera being used in a court prosecution, he fully backED their use.
"There have been a couple of occasions the body camera footage was shown during police interview and the perpetrator put his hands up and pleaded guilty. But that will only happen in a minimal number of cases," Mr McElholm said.
He added: " The problem is, can you use the footage as evidence? The footage is of the aftermath of the incident. I am very firmly behind their use. I think they can be of use. It is incumbent on the PSNI to gather every piece of evidence that they can. But there will be cases where victims do not want to give evidence and it may be difficult to rely on the footage alone."
Women's Aid had made calls for body cameras to be used by officers amid concerns over the number of domestic abuse cases that do not proceed because the victim does not want to give evidence, either through fear or a sense of loyalty to their abuser.
"We are very keen to see the result of the pilot scheme. Many women drop the charges through fear of going to court, or of threats to her or her family. Body cameras could be presented as evidence in cases where the victim does not want to proceed," said Women's Aid NI director Annie Campbell.
However, the officer in charge of the PSNI's Public Protection Unit has warned prosecutions may still be very difficult in cases where body camera evidence is presented. "There are times when a victim who, fully informed, says they do not want to pursue a conviction," said PSNI Chief Superintendent George Clarke.