No Easy Solution to BWV
I am grateful for the opportunity to explain the policy on the release of body-worn video, writes Sir Stephen House.
There are a wide range of views on how we should treat the body-worn footage that we generate. Obviously all this is in the wake of a number of high-profile interactions with the public where social media has been a key factor. And the plea I hear from some is, “release the full BWV footage and show what really happened”.
Internally, we hear this plea when the view from officers is that we have done nothing wrong and there is a need to put the record straight.
I completely understand this viewpoint and indeed I have expressed this opinion myself. But there are a number of reasons why we cannot simply release BWV in every case where there is adverse media commentary.
First, we have to consider whether there may be a criminal investigation – where the BWV would be evidential. Obviously we cannot risk prejudicing a criminal prosecution.
Second, the subjects involved [including officers] may not want the footage released [and we know that officers identified are sadly subject to social media abuse and victimisation]. ‘Pixellating’ faces does not provide full protection and we know that officers can still be targeted.
Third, we have to abide by data protection and privacy requirements, which introduces complications and complexity. We cannot simply release without any thought of who is shown on the video or is possibly identifiable.
In the majority of cases data protection rules will mean we are lawfully unable to release footage into the public domain as it is legally considered to include the personal information of those recorded at the time of an incident occurring.
We can do it when we can show the clear policing purpose to do so, but this is a high threshold and one many of these cases don’t meet.
Fourth, if the Met adopts a policy of releasing our footage where it shows the true extent of the encounter [eg 15 minutes rather than 25 seconds] and we ‘put the record straight’ there will be consequences.
First, we must accept that we will also be called upon to release BWV in a very wide range of cases and sometimes these will bring greater focus on our actions – not necessarily a bad thing but it must be taken into consideration.
Second, without the officers’ statements, other witness accounts or details of why we were called, even the body-worn video only shows partial elements of an encounter. Whilst we may consider that wider release of footage will show the true context, it remains true that totally lawful, proportionate, legal and necessary use of force can still look ugly. Appropriate strikes to legs or arms can often appear to a neutral public as ‘wrong’.
I would advise anyone interested in this subject to look at a blog by DAC Matt Horne who has led on this work. You can find his blog on the MPS intranet. National guidance will also be published shortly.
I don’t have space here to go into detail but I would like to make two brief points.
We have established a small team within Professionalism who work with our media staff to quickly identify, assess and respond to viral social media – with the intent of getting our position quickly established and made clear to the public and media.
Finally, I am determined that we will support officers in doing the job and speak out where necessary and helpful, but I don’t believe release of BWV is currently the easy answer that some would suggest.