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Will New Zealand Police adopt body-worn cameras?

NZ Security Magazine, April-May 2018

Are the benefits worth the investment?Are the benefits worth the investment?


As more local and central government enforcement agencies gravitate towards the adoption of body-worn cameras, Nicholas Dynon learns that NZ Police are monitoring the trend, but are taking things slowly.


Since last December, NZSM has carried a total of ten articles relating to body-worn cameras. Given the uptake of the technology both locally and internationally in the enforcement space, it is a capability development that significant implications for both public and private security.

There exists a growing body of research documenting the safety, behavioural and evidentiary benefits of BWCs. Unsurprisingly, their uptake in New Zealand has proliferated among many local and central government agencies, notably parking enforcement, animal welfare and corrections, yet Police are in no hurry.

NZ Police Superintendent Chris Scahill told NZSM that Police “continues to monitor the use of body-worn cameras by various agencies and any potential benefits for New Zealand policing, but at this time we have no plans for their immediate introduction.”

My article in the Dec 2017/Jan 2018 issue of NZSM addressed the New Zealand context relating to body-worn cameras and the police (“Police shy on body-worn cameras in spite of evidence”).  

That article identified that in some other jurisdictions, police have faced significant and sustained public pressure to adopt BWCs because of concerns over excessive use of force and racial bias. This, thankfully, is not the case in New Zealand. We have a police force in which citizens place generally high levels of confidence and trust.

Locally, calls for police body-worn cameras ramp up when police shootings, such as the Nick Marshall case, are in the news, but they disappear from public discourse just as quickly.

Ultimately, although there is no great pressure here on Police to adopt the technology, there nevertheless are well-documented reasons to be seriously considering it.


A view from the beat

In the March 2018 issue of the NZ Police Association magazine, Police News, contributor Constable Ben Rutherford wrote an article on BWCs as a result of a visit to Christchurch Prison during which he was escorted by a Corrections officer wearing a body camera.

“When I asked her how she felt about wearing the device, she said she had never felt safer at work. Assaults on Corrections staff had reduced massively and the inmates were more aware of their actions around staff,” he wrote.

“Police seems to be taking a wait and see approach on the general use of the technology after running a small trial in Lower Hutt a couple of years ago, although Police iPhone cameras are being tested for taking statements during family harm callouts, and proving very useful by all accounts.”

Constable Rutherford cites a 2015 University of Florida study, which showed a 53 per cent reduction in use of force incidents and complaints against Police dropped by 65 per cent when Police were wearing body cameras. “I know it’s another bulky item to add to the SRBA, he writes, “but should that matter if it’s there for our protection, along with its crime-fighting and crime-solving potential?”

The NZ Police Association (NZPA) itself does not have a formal position on the wearing of body-worn cameras, but, according to President Detective Inspector Chris Cahill, “would like to see some serious investigation as to how their use would work in NZ.”

The Association also pointed to a number of positives reported by some jurisdictions, including:

  • the data can potentially help avoid trials if a defendant is presented with compelling video evidence of his/her offending
  • potentially the video evidence can support reluctant witnesses to be more willing to assist in a prosecution
  • victims may be protected from the trauma of reliving violence through court testimony
  • body cams may in time (and not yet the case in Australia) reduce assaults on police officers as Corrections reports has been the case in prisons.

“According to the Association's counterparts in Queensland and NSW, they are very happy with the body cameras and the NZPA is watching closely the progress across Australia,” Detective Inspector Chris Cahill stated.


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Barriers to adoption

In his article, Rutherford identifies what appear to be the major blockers to potential uptake of the technology: “they’re not cheap, coming in about $750 per unit, and there are ongoing concerns about privacy and the storage of video footage.”

As the NZPA sees it, the potential barriers include:

  • the initial roll-out costs of the cameras and their storage,
  • the costs associated with inevitable updating and replacement of obsolete technology,
  • there are potential issues relating to where the data is stored and the length of storage, on what grounds is it either retained indefinitely or disposed of,
  • issues of privacy as to who can access and/or analyse the data,
  • there need to be rules covering when officers turn on and off their body cameras as this could impact on how accurate the collected data can be claimed to be,

According to the NZPA, the Search and Surveillance Act 2012 appears, on the face of it, to provide police officers the legal right to film what they can see with their own eyes.

Section 47 of that Act indicates that as long as an officer is lawfully in a premises, they can record without a warrant “what he or she observes or hears there (provided that the enforcement officer records only those matters that he or she could see or hear without the use of a surveillance device)”.

But, considering the potential volume of data likely to be captured if police officers carried BWCs as standard issue, the privacy issue extend well beyond the initial capture of footage.

“While the technology itself is readily available,” states Superintendent Scahill, “if on-body cameras were to be more closely considered by Police at any future stage, among the complexities that would need to be to be resolved would be the appropriate storage, security and management of any footage captured...”

It’s at that critical tail-end of data management where a significant proportion of the cost of BWC deployment is found, yet the technology to afford adequate protection to the data is nevertheless available.

It ultimately becomes a question of whether or not the benefits are considered worth the investment. That consideration – for the time being – remains ongoing.



An officer’s perspective on body-worn cameras

NZ Security Magazine, Feb-Mar 2018

Police shy on body-worn cameras in spite of evidence

NZ Security Magazine, Dec 2017/Jan 2018

Do body-worn cameras discourage undesirable behaviour?

NZ Security Magazine, Dec 2017/Jan 2017

Health and safety driving take-up of body-worn cameras

NZ Security Magazine, Dec 2017/Jan 2018


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