Chapter Twenty-seven - Capturing best evidence and reducing complaints
27.1 How the state responds to complaints in relation to policing in Scotland is the subject of this review. However, reducing complaints by better policing methods is clearly also highly desirable. Rather than a predominantly reactive mode towards complaints when they occur, the policing bodies should be taking preventative actions and adopting policies that will contribute to a reduction in their number. Much of this report is concerned with the response to complaints but many complaints can be prevented by good psychology, empathetic engagement, a trauma‑informed approach and using techniques that de‑escalate aggression and create a safer environment for everyone.
Body-worn video cameras
27.2 The availability of a recorded account of an incident provides significant assistance in investigating complaints against the police or wider investigations. Over the last few decades the availability of such evidence has increased significantly and has been of immense assistance in many investigations and subsequent trials.
27.3 In some areas of the public services, body-worn video cameras have been introduced in order to facilitate transparency, trust within the community and to assist courts when addressing the actions of officers. In different parts of the United Kingdom body-worn video cameras have been trialled by prison officers, ambulance crews and traffic wardens. There are approximately 80,000 body‑worn video cameras in use by police officers in England and Wales.
27.4 The arguments in favour of the use of body-worn video cameras include keeping the police accountable by providing evidence and corroboration; protecting officers from assaults or false accusation because the action of recording moderates the behaviour of all parties; reducing time and money spent on investigating complaints; it also reduces time spent in court proceedings and increases the likelihood of guilty pleas.
27.5 The risks associated with the use of body-worn video cameras include violation of the privacy of third parties who are not the subject of interaction, and insufficient capacity of IT systems to store and transmit footage. In order to mitigate those risks, clear and consistent guidelines and Codes of Practice would be necessary to govern operational practice and manage the data in accordance with the relevant legislation.
27.6 Scottish Police Federation representatives gave early evidence to the Review that where all systems were in place in COPFS and Police Scotland, body‑worn video cameras could be an asset to the service. However, they considered that the issue of funding was one that has to be addressed.
27.7 Police Scotland have a long-term aim in Policing 2026, their ten-year strategy document, to expand the use of body-worn video cameras, but this objective will only be a realistic prospect when financial and structural constraints are addressed. The associated Implementation Plan stated that Police Scotland would, "Undertake body-worn video public consultation to inform appropriate implementation and use".
27.8 There is a range of evidence about the pros and cons of body‑worn video cameras but relatively little that deals specifically with the impact on complaints. Research carried out with the Tulsa Police Department in the USA suggests that the benefits in relation to gathering evidence on complaints could be significant: "We have found the body-worn camera system to be very beneficial thus far as the cameras have not only provided transparency, but provided valuable video evidence in investigations." (Police Chief Chuck Jordan, Tulsa Police Department). A 2014 study in the United States found that the likelihood of force being used in control conditions, that is, without cameras, was roughly twice that when cameras were in use; and analysis of use-of-force and complaints data also supported this result with the number of complaints filed against officers dropping from 0.7 complaints per 1,000 contacts to 0.07 per 1,000 contacts.
27.9 In discussion with the Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime in London it was reported to the Review that the use of body‑worn video cameras in the Metropolitan Police Service area had seen a one‑third reduction in complaints.
27.10 The Police Ombudsman of Northern Ireland (PONI) published a report in April 2020 on the 'Impact of the introduction of body-worn video by the PSNI on police complaints in Northern Ireland'. They found a 9% decrease in complaints received by the PONI since the introduction of body-worn video cameras by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI). Complaints arising from police searches and arrests decreased the most. (A complaint may include more than one allegation.) Allegations of irregularities with a police search, incivility and oppressive behaviour had the largest decreases.
27.11 The report stressed that although the analysis found that both the number of complaints and the number of allegations had decreased after body-worn video cameras were introduced, it was not possible to determine whether this was solely down to the use of body-worn video cameras. A number of other factors may have contributed to the decreases, such as complaint reaction strategies and changes to training, procedures and levels of engagement.
27.12 Video footage was either critical or helpful to the investigation in nearly three‑quarters of initial complaints where the investigator viewed the footage. Investigators found it useful in showing the level of force used and any reasons for doing so, gaining an early understanding of the incident, assisting in refuting inaccurate versions of events and enabling clear identification of individuals involved.
27.13 The PONI report also quoted City of London Police officers who found the technology "empowering" and said, "video enables one to feel the emotions of an incident".
27.14 The potential benefits of body‑worn video cameras in reducing and resolving complaints against police officers support the aspiration of Police Scotland to make more use of body‑worn video cameras. Subject to the supporting infrastructure being in place, cameras should be rolled out nationally to all police officers working in the custody environment or in a public‑facing role.
27.15 Police Scotland has acknowledged the potential benefits associated with the introduction of body‑worn video cameras, including improved officer safety due to a reduction in assaults, reducing and resolving complaints against officers and an increase in early guilty pleas, saving time and costs. The service has also acknowledged the risk around the absence of the technology. However, budgetary constraints have prevented any further progress on procurement.
27.16 In the preliminary report I recommended that Police Scotland should accelerate its plans to expand the use of body‑worn video technology and that remains my position.
Preliminary report recommendation: Police Scotland should accelerate its plans to expand the use of body‑worn video technology.