Police Body Cameras: They're Meant To Keep Cops Accountable, But Lawyers Aren't So Sure.

The cameras will keep citizens safe and officers accountable.

What you need to know
  • Victoria Police roll out largest Australian body worn camera pilot.
  • Lawyers are concerned about the power officers have to turn these cameras on and off.
  • All 11 000 Police will have the cameras by 2020.

The effectiveness of a scheme to introduce of police body cameras in Melbourne is being scrutinised by lawyers amid concerns using the devices will be selective.

Victoria Police will be equipped with body cameras, worn on their uniforms and used to collect video and audio evidence throughout a six week trial. By 2020 the entire Victoria Police force is expected to be wearing the cameras.

By simply pressing the camera's button, an officer can begin recording audio or video.

"When the device is on, it turns red around the camera and it’s a really, really obvious red, so I can imagine that the community will see that the camera is on," Victoria Police Commander Russell Barrett said.

Police will be expected to use the cameras while exercising any common law or legislative powers. These include conducting arrests, when using force, doing drug or alcohol tests or when pulling over a vehicle.

It is the expectation that officers turn on their camera at the appropriate time and failure to do so will result in a case-by-case investigation, according to Barrett.

But will this system keep police accountable? Lawyers aren't so sure.

Cameras will be attached to the outside of officer's clothing.

Spokesperson for the Australian Lawyers Alliance Greg Barns said the concern with the new technology is officers' discretion when turning the cameras on or off.

"I think the issue is that if a police officer wants to turn the camera off before they beat the hell out of someone, they can and that has been the case in other jurisdictions," Barns told ten daily. 

"I think they should be obliged [to tell the public when filming] ... they should not be able to survey people without those people being told."

Footage captured by the cameras is classified as 'protected information' under the Freedom of Information Act, but Barns said there should be incentives for officers to use their cameras properly.

"There needs to be strong incentive [to use the cameras] and penalties if camera footage is not available."

All footage taken will be downloaded at the end of every shift and be kept for 90 days, unless the footage is required for evidence.

The cameras will be used when Police come into contact with the public.

"11 000 of these devices will be rolled out over the next few years and ... that’s a good thing and the Police Association supports this technology," Police Association Secretary Wayne Gatt said. 

"It's something we have been campaigning for and we think this will make policing outcome better ones."

Minister for Police Lisa Neville also expressed her support for the pilot.

"The Chief Commissioner has made it very clear to members where and when they should be using the body worn cameras. They are not on for the whole shift,  they will be always used in situations where a police officer is using their common law and legislative powers," Neville said. 

Other benefits of body cameras include capturing early guilty pleas, collecting more audio or video evidence and  increasing officer and citizen safety, police said.

The pilot also follows recommendations from the Family Violence Royal Commission which suggested Victoria Police trial body worn cameras on the as the technology could capture statements and evidence from family crime scenes.

"Our use of body worn cameras will allow us later this year acquit the family violence recommendations to test whether the capturing of video and audio evidence can improve outcomes for family violence victims," Barrett said. 

Police accountability in Victoria has recently been called into question following the brutal treatment of a disabled pensioner in Preston in early April. The incident is currently subject to investigation by Victoria Police.