Body worn cameras are an elegant idea for many public safety organisations. The concept of equipping operatives with lightweight, small form factor cameras that can be worn relatively unobtrusively opens up a number of applications and benefits. These range from paramedics seeking medical advice about a particular injury to police and other first responders dealing with issues such as floods or crowd control.
‘There’s a growing recognition that technology in general is becoming much more mobile,’ says Paul Kinsella, the vice president of British APCO. ‘Body worn mobile started out as evidential with cameras simply recording and stored for replay. People are now looking at the capability of transmitting video and are considering how that will be a useful capability.’
‘The impact of that – and it is stepping beyond what we can do – is the ability to exploit a far wider range of uses than recording evidence material that might help an officer either obtain a conviction or avoid a complaint,’ he adds.
‘You start to explore how a commander could witness what staff are seeing or doing.’
The vendor community is starting to see interest in those areas, although much of the activity remains centred on traditional recording for replaying later.
‘We receive requests for more information every day about this sort of camera,’ says Becky Green, the regional market manager at Panasonic. Body worn video is seen as a convenient way for the emergency services to keep an audio and video record of their day, which can then be easily downloaded when they get back to the office.’
The police have been identified as the most likely early adopters. ‘The police are the lead group with funding coming through from the Home Office,’ says Andy Burke, business development at Edesix, the inventor of VideoBadge, a body worn video system based on an ID card holder design.
‘Others see the benefits of protecting their staff and their reputation and gaining efficiencies, but they have less urgency at present,’ adds Burke.
Kinsella sees the applications for body worn video becoming more valuable as the technology improves to enable integration with other systems such as facial recognition or automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) systems. ‘The capability to link up from other systems is interesting,’ he says.
‘Body worn video linked to facial recognition and ANPR adds massively in terms of intelligence gathering and operational efficiency. Trials are being conducted in the US and the UK about the effectiveness of this and, as the capability to transmit data improves, it has exponential potential.
‘You get into the realm of the art of the possible,’ Kinsella adds. ‘The danger is an officer could become someone you just hang technology on and they’ll start to lose their autonomy. The police officer becomes less autonomous and becomes an automaton.’
Today though, the mainstream applications are simpler. ‘Body worn video can be used in access control in buildings and it also provides additional security for police or security guards, which can be used in court,’ says Green.
‘The fact that these types of cameras also capture audio is very important and can clear up misunderstandings or disagreements quickly and efficiently. Private security companies, who often have to go to a house because an alarm has been triggered, are using the cameras to provide the proof that they attended to home owners,’ notes Green.
Burke sees the integration of body worn video with other systems as something that will take some years to mature. ‘This will happen in the future,’ he says. ‘Body worn video is still a big project for organisations, but once the market has matured more, and mobile network costs and bandwidth limitations come down, this integration will also become a reality for certain sectors.’
Panasonic’s Green shares Burke’s caution. ‘We have not integrated the camera with ANPR or face recognition and haven’t had enquiries to do so. The camera works stand-alone and is not wirelessly connected. Maybe in the future with the application of new technologies and capabilities it will be something that would be of greater demand.’
As more systems and the transmission of data is brought into the body worn video arena, there are challenges to be addressed in relation to ensuring the video is admissable in court. ‘Right now a lot of thought is being put into how one ensures material can’t be tampered with,’ says Kinsella.
‘For example, if a piece of footage is recorded at a particular resolution and its resolution is changed for the court, how much of an issue is that?’ he asks. ‘I think all footage will contain metadata of time and location – it’s not difficult to include location data with a GPS or Galileo chip built in.’
Body worn camera vendors don’t see the requirement for evidential video as an issue. ‘The video must be encrypted so that no tampering can take place,’ explains Green.
‘As long as that is in place, we’ve found that there is no problem to use body cameras as evidence. That does change from country to country of course and each country has different privacy protection legislation, so it can be the case that you can’t record audio and video on the street without specific permission.’
Burke agrees: ‘There are no challenges for us because VideoBadge is an end-to-end camera to courtroom system with encryption and full evidence integrity,’ he explains. ‘That is unlike sports or leisure cameras which are open source and can therefore be tampered with, making them unsuitable for court applications.’
Kinsella has greater concerns. ‘We’re at the beginning of a journey here and the law and practice has to catch up with the technology,’ he says. ‘Body worn video doesn’t sit clearly in best practice and the law, it was introduced in 2008 and the legislative world hasn’t quite caught up. It still sits within the CCTV codes of practice.
‘The key to successful implementation of body worn video is around the back office functions. It’s about being able to download, store, search and retrieve a huge amount of data, so we can answer whatever questions arise. That’s going to be quite a challenge in terms of bringing it all together,’ he cautions.