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5 Insights From the UK's Biggest Body-Worn Camera Deployment

Mike Ashby-Clarke is Axon’s UK country manager. Prior to Axon, Mike was an officer in the Metropolitan Police Service (Met). In 2014 he was a sergeant in Camden, North London, where he had first-hand experience of the Met’s 10-borough trial of body-worn cameras. As the force moved to a full deployment of 22,000 Axon Body 2s in 2016, Mike assumed the role of the project’s performance and governance lead. The article calls on this unusual blend of project oversight and operational experience to explain the five key insights that Mike believes can help ensure successful body-worn camera deployments. They include:

 

1: The trial phase: Turn sceptics into advocates (and make cameras a mandatory accessory)

The Met’s trial of body-worn cameras, run in partnership with the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) and the College of Policing, was the world’s largest. It involved 10 boroughs, focusing on Emergency Response Teams (ERTs). Five ERTs were randomly assigned to either the treatment group, who were issued cameras (two teams), or the control group (three teams). The Met elected to run the project in an advisory capacity, recommending that officers assigned cameras wore them. But it was not mandatory. 

With any roll-out of new technology there will be advocates, sceptics and those in between. Says Mike: “We had our fair share of each. And it just so happens that one of the more vocal members of my team, who was not a fan, pivoted in his view when he saw how cameras protect officers.”

The officer was implicated in an allegation of assault. It was made against him and a colleague by a female suspect they were transporting to custody. It was so serious that, under normal circumstances, a professional standards investigation would have commenced. The officers would also have been withdrawn from duty.

However, both officers’ cameras had recorded the incident. The footage showed there was no case. The complainant was charged with wasting police time and the officers were spared the professional and personal worry associated with a standards review. “This one incident completely changed the officer’s view,” observes Mike. “As a result, everyone started to wear their cameras more often and it impressed two things on me. Firstly, that, if there are officers who are well-known figures, it’s best to try to bring them onside to help influence others. Secondly, due to the protection that cameras give officers, there’s strong merit in making it mandatory that they’re worn throughout any trial. And, ultimately, the more officers that do so, the more evidence there’ll be behind the business case.”

 

2: The deployment phase: Success lies in planning and benchmarking

Support for body-worn cameras in London had been building for a while ahead of their deployment. And, with public opinion, the Mayor’s Office and the Met all onside, the project team identified over 20 goals. But quickly the performance and governance team felt these needed to be refined. 

Says Mike: “As we got into the roll-out, we identified that our targets were esoteric. A good example is the business case. We set the goal that body-worn cameras should pay for themselves by reducing complaints against officers, and therefore litigation costs. Since the cameras were rolled out, complaints have fallen by 40% – a great win. But in reality, it’s hard to say how much of this is directly attributable to body-worn cameras and thus how much of a financial benefit we can claim.”

Mike’s team trimmed the project’s goals down to eight. They set a baseline measure for each one, including tracking the public’s confidence in body-worn video, ensuring that all stop and search incidents are recorded and increasing positive criminal justice outcomes and early guilty pleas. A dashboard monitored the goals. And each month Mike presented findings to borough commanders to show them how they were doing relative to peers. He says: “This is the key learning for me – it’s critical to set quantifiable goals at the outset. These can be used not only to justify spending but to encourage teams to adopt best practice.”

 

3: The deployment phase: Take your community with you 

Although the roll-out of body-worn cameras was broadly supported by Londoners, there were concerns about how they’d be used. What’s more, the capital had an ongoing issue, with some communities feeling that they were disproportionately targeted by stop and search. The body-worn camera team worked closely with communities to tackle both issues head-on. Partnering with the Met’s Community Monitoring Groups, officers met regularly with local community leaders. Random stop and search footage was selected to discuss whether the stop was appropriate and how the interaction was handled. Constructive feedback was fed back to officers. 

“The Met rightly receives a lot of kudos for this level of transparency,” says Mike. “And, as stop and search becomes more frequently used to arrest the rise in knife crime, I believe we’ll see less push back from communities who now have a deeper understanding of the rationale behind this. Critically, too, since we rolled out the cameras, the recording of all stop and search situations has grown from 40% to close to 100% – this is a major win for officers, people being stopped and communities. It protects the truth and ensures transparency.”

 

4: The deployment phase: Train the trainers – and be flexible 

While body-worn cameras are intuitive to use, the whole approach to capturing footage and managing it does require training. In the Met, delivering this across a large force was a challenge. It managed this by providing online training. Officers had to present their training certificate before they were issued with cameras. Meanwhile, ‘super users’ were trained for each station and were on hand to help colleagues. It’s also advisable to have a dedicated project team – involving officers, tech staff and data analysts.

Having officers on the team is especially important. Mike gives this example as to why: “It’s not unusual for a tech survey to suggest that the best place for camera docks is near a junction box when, actually, officers want them to hand in their parade room. Apparent nuances like this can make a big difference to the way officers engage with kit.”

It’s also recommended that the project team is retained post deployment. The main reason for this is that SaaS products like Axon Evidence are continually updated. While this brings huge value in terms of optimising investments, software improvements need to be validated and tested to ensure they are appropriate for each force. Referring to this, Mike comments: “You can’t assume that new features will just be assimilated into business as usual. So training platforms must be easy to update to ensure courses stay in step with agency protocols and the new capabilities available to officers. The obvious solution is an online training portal with updates to resources sent to all officers who need to take them.”

 

5: The deployment phase: Promote the roll-out 

In the public sector, budgets can be tight. This can lead to a make-do and mend approach to technology, with teams feeling they have to endure, not enjoy, equipment and systems. 

Body-worn cameras represented a major uplift in terms of kit and the project team wanted to emphasise this. All officers were sent a ‘goody bag’. This included headphones, cue cards that could be handed to the public to explain why cameras were used, and the bag itself which doubled up as a lint lens cleaner. “A 22,000 camera roll-out is a big investment,” says Mike. “We wanted the issuing of devices to feel like unboxing a new iPhone. As a result of this, officers took greater ownership of their cameras and looked after them more.” 

 

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