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Police: Body-worn Cameras

Volume 768: debated on Thursday 11 February 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is the current guidance provided to police forces regarding the use of body-worn cameras by police officers.

My Lords, the College of Policing published interim operational guidance for the use of body-worn video in July 2014. The college is preparing evidence-based authorised professional practice, which we anticipate will be published later this year.

My Lords, Jermaine Baker was shot dead by the police in Tottenham last December. The fact that the firearms officer was not wearing a body-worn camera was viewed with suspicion by some and with regret by the IPCC. Does the Minister not agree that the Home Office needs to publish as soon as possible a statement on the current position on body-worn cameras and national guidelines, in order to avoid unreasonable suspicion falling on the police?

The noble Lord asks an interesting question. The incident to which he refers involved a mobile armed surveillance support team. A lot of the guidance relates to the overt use of cameras by operational police. The covert is also covered by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. This is something that we need to look very carefully at, and I understand that we will be receiving reports from the IPCC in considering what further action needs to be taken, perhaps in the Policing and Crime Bill.

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the latest research, published in today’s newspapers, explaining that 15% of stop and search is carried out unreasonably? This is an area of serious adversarial relationships between the police and the BME community. Is it not time that such evidence was available to individuals so that rights and liberties would not be affected?

The Home Secretary has announced a reform of stop and search powers. Since those reforms were introduced, there has been a fall in stop and search; there were 540,000 instances last year, a fall of 40% in one year. At the same time, knife crime fell in the capital. We think that the use of body-worn video will only help to ensure that stop-and-search procedures are used in a fair and proportionate way.

Does my noble friend pay tribute with me to the enormous amount of work that has been done by the Home Secretary in the reform of stop and search, which I agree is disproportionately used against ethnic minorities? Does he congratulate her on suspending 13 police forces which failed to use stop and search appropriately and were seen to be using it unlawfully, and can he outline to the House what further steps the Home Secretary intends to take to ensure that this power is not abused?

We are doing a number of things in this area. We have issued the new reforms, and of course, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary keeps this under very tight review. We have also said that data must be collected on this, and transparency of data collection is a very important part of reassuring the public that these important powers are used proportionately and appropriately, irrespective of people’s ethnic backgrounds.

My Lords, I refer to my interests in the register on policing. Can the Minister enlighten us? Is it not the case that where there have been trials of body-worn videos, the number of complaints against police have fallen, and that they have been much more easily resolved? If all officers who carry out stop and search had body-worn videos, would that not reduce many of the tensions? It might have a good effect on the officers concerned as regards the manner in which they carry out those stop and searches as well as on the behaviour of those whom they stop. If so, should the Government not move much more rapidly to ensure that all officers on the street, whether covert or overt, are equipped with body-worn videos?

Indeed; that particular study the noble Lord refers to was on a trial carried out by the Metropolitan Police and the College of Policing, and it found exactly that: it had a regulating behaviour both on those who were videoed and those who carried the body-worn camera. Public approval was in excess of 90% across a whole range of indicators that this was a positive innovation. That is why the Met has announced that it will roll it out across all front-line services—Hampshire and others have already done so. However, at that level it is a matter for the chief constable.

I endorse the comments that have been made by my noble friend Lord Harris of Haringey. Who will have to approve the new guidelines to which the Minister referred, and will there be any parliamentary scrutiny or debate on them?

They will have the standing of authorised professional practice, which comes under the College of Policing. That is published and it is open to review. However, we have changed the procedure from the Home Office guidance on body-worn cameras issued in 2007 to give the National College of Policing and chief constables greater power and authority to make those decisions, although that is public and will be open to scrutiny.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for answering the questions that are posed to him, unlike some of his colleagues, who ignore the questions and read from a ministerial brief. Will he consider having a word with them?

I have no idea how to answer that. All I can say is that in my experience my colleagues on the Front Bench do everything in their power to make sure that the Members of this House get the answers to questions which they deserve.