Body-worn cameras: In defence of police and public

Police Officer Aaron Waddell showing on Sept 17, 2014, how the police department in Laurel, Maryland, has been using body-cameras during patrols for nearly two years. -- PHOTO: AFP
Police Officer Aaron Waddell showing on Sept 17, 2014, how the police department in Laurel, Maryland, has been using body-cameras during patrols for nearly two years. -- PHOTO: AFP
Singapore police officers with body-worn cameras. The cameras are part of a plan by the Singapore Police Force to tap technology, keeping crime at bay, without the need for more manpower. -- PHOTO: ST FILE 
Singapore police officers with body-worn cameras. The cameras are part of a plan by the Singapore Police Force to tap technology, keeping crime at bay, without the need for more manpower. -- PHOTO: ST FILE 
Modelling body cameras are (from left) Washington DC Police Officer Debra Domino, Master Patrol Officer Benjamin Fettering and Officer JaShawn Colkley at a press conference at City Hall on Sept 24, 2014 in Washington, DC. The Washington Metropolitan
Modelling body cameras are (from left) Washington DC Police Officer Debra Domino, Master Patrol Officer Benjamin Fettering and Officer JaShawn Colkley at a press conference at City Hall on Sept 24, 2014 in Washington, DC. The Washington Metropolitan Police Department is on a six-month pilot programme where 250 body cameras will be used by officers. -- PHOTO: AFP 

US President Barack has asked Congress for US$263 million (S$343 million) for a three-year package to expand the training and use technology in the day-to-day running of police departments.

The proposal, which comes in the light of the deadly August shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, includes US$75 million to buy as many as 50,000 body-worn cameras to record police interactions with the public.

Such cameras are already in use or on trial by the police in several US cities and other countries, including Singapore.

United StatesVocativ in November 2014 put together a map of cities it contacted on the use of body cameras by the police. It learnt that of the 100 most-populous cities it got in touch with, 41 use body cams on some of their officers, 25 have plans to implement them and 30 do not use or plan to use them. Only four cities did not respond to the website's queries.

SingaporeAs part of a pilot project to boost front-line policing, the men in blue at a Neighbourhood Police Centre started testing the cameras in June 2014 for use when responding to 999 calls.

Resembling a pager, the camera is lighter than a smartphone at 79g. It is clipped onto an officer’s uniform at chest level and can record in high definition for up to eight hours continuously.

The device has only one moving part: the sliding on-off switch, so that officers can only record and not view or edit footage. The recording of other interactions will be up to the officers’ discretion, and they are trained to inform members of the public that their interactions are being filmed.

The Committee of Inquiry, in its assessment report issued in July 2014 on the Little India riot on Dec 8, 2013, had called for better technological capabilities, including body-worn cameras, to see what was happening on the ground. 

BritainAbout 5,000 body-worn cameras are in use by police in England and Wales, according to The Economist in August 2014.

Teams answering 999 calls in 10 London boroughs have been wearing cameras since May. On Aug 14, the Metropolitan Police said pencil cameras, affixed to clear glasses, had been given to officers in a uniformed armed unit.

London's pilot scheme came after criticism of the police over the shooting of Mr Mark Duggan, 29, by armed officers, reported the BBC. His death in Tottenham in August 2011 sparked riots in the area that later spread across England.

AustraliaVictoria, despite misgivings by its police union, and South Australia states launched trials as far back as 2012, reported ABC News. In May 2014, New South Wales rolled out A$4 million (S$4.4 million) worth of body cameras for its officers.

Hong KongThe Chinese territory started a three-month pilot in August 2012 following complaints of how demonstrators were being treated by the police. The force said it hoped the use would cut crime, raise conviction rates and tackle a growing "complaint culture" in the city.

According to the police website, trials were subsequently run in 2013, with another one launched in June 2014.