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Camera cops 'more likely to be assaulted'

Press AssociationPress Association 17/05/2016

Police officers may be more likely to suffer assaults if they are wearing body-worn cameras, a study suggests.

Preliminary results from eight UK and US forces indicated that rates of assault were 15 per cent higher when personnel used the devices.

Experts said one possible reason for the "unexpected" finding could be that officers feel more able to report incidents once they are captured on camera.

The research also suggested there was no overall discernible effect of using the cameras on police use of force on citizens.

Most police services in England and Wales now use body-worn video to some extent, and last year the largest force - the Metropolitan Police - announced plans to introduce the equipment to all frontline officers following a large-scale trial.

For the new study criminologists worked with eight police forces across the US and UK - including West Midlands, Cambridgeshire and Northern Ireland's PSNI - to conduct 10 randomised-controlled trials.

Over the 10 trials, the experts from the University of Cambridge and research organisation RAND Europe found that rates of assault against officers wearing cameras on their shift were an average of 15 per cent higher, compared to shifts without cameras.

The result "demands attention," the authors wrote.

"Does this mean that officers should be advised to remove BWVs (body-worn videos) immediately?

"If the results are accepted uncritically, that is, that BWVs increase the likelihood of assaults against officers, then this might be the conclusion one comes to. However, we cannot rule out alternative explanations at this stage."

A number of theories were advanced, including the idea that "with an 'objective' record of events, officers feel more able (or compelled) to report instances when they are assaulted".

Another possibility was that officers may be "less assertive" because of monitoring, and this could make them more vulnerable to assault, the study suggested.

It also noted that the strongest results for assaults against police came from the smallest studies and these may be "atypical results", while increased assaults against police "may also be a corollary of the decreased use of force in some instances".

Shift patterns of more than 2000 officers were split at random between those allocated a camera and those without the kit. A total of 2.2 million officer-hours were covered.

In another finding that was said to run contrary to current thinking, the rate of use-of-force by police on citizens was unchanged by the presence of body-worn cameras.

Deeper analysis showed this depended on whether or not officers chose when to turn cameras on. If they were turned on and off during their shift then use of force increased, while if they were kept rolling for the whole shift it decreased.

The researchers urged caution on the findings, published across two papers in the European Journal of Criminology and the Journal of Experimental Criminology, saying work is ongoing and the results demand further scrutiny.

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