Priti Patel has backed the Police Federation of England & Wales’ calls for more police forces to release body-worn camera footage.
Following the stop involving Dawn Butler MP – who was a passenger in a car that was stopped by officers from the Metropolitan Police – the Police Federation called for the Met to release the officers body-worn camera footage to clarify some of the points which were raised by Ms Butler.
However, in the UK at least, police forces currently do not generally release the body-worn footage of high-profile incidents solely to clear up some of the confusion which often accompanies these types of incidents.
But Priti Patel has now said that she wants police forces to release officers’ body-worn footage to try and bring more clarity on incidents which are quickly put into the public interest ‘arena’.
As reported by the Express, the Home Secretary said that armchair critics blast the actions of officers despite having “little understanding of the reality” of the situation which the officers are dealing with.
Ms Patel has written to Martin Hewitt, chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council while the head of the College of Policing, Mike Cunningham, has backed the Police Federation campaign that urges forces in England & Wales to be more “proactive” in releasing the footage.
The Home Secretary warned the actions of officers are “deliberately misrepresented” in videos posted on social media, and this could ‘undermine trust in our 999 heroes’.
In a letter seen by the Daily Express, Ms Patel told chiefs that ministers must do “whatever we can to protect them when doing their jobs”.
“It is in this context that I am expressing my support for the Police Federation’s recent campaign to protect officers from unfair criticism via social media.
“Decisions around the release of such footage are, of course, operational matters for individual chiefs and must be taken on a case-by-case basis with due consideration of the relevant legal frameworks.
“Nonetheless, I hope that guidance will encourage forces to consider the welfare of officers in these situations and, where the release of BWV footage is not appropriate, outline alternative options and good practice.
“I would encourage forces to be proactive in considering where BWV footage can be released to demonstrate the good work officers do and to show that selective footage can be misleading.”
In her letter to Mr Hewitt, she added: “Increasingly we find footage of police interactions being shared across various platforms and used as the basis to criticise the actions of the officers involved.
“Often those commenting on the footage online from their homes have little understanding of the reality of a specific situation, or the pressures of policing.
“But, worse than this, in some cases, the actions of officers are deliberately misrepresented and footage edited to support this false narrative.
“This has a corrosive impact on the welfare of the officers involved and on public confidence more broadly.”
Whilst body-worn camera footage is released to the press once a court case involving any suspects has been completed, it is rare for forces to release body-camera footage in an attempt to clarify events which may have taken place leading up to a ‘viral’ or ‘significant interest’ news story.
There have been several cases recently where members of the public have filmed short segments of incidents which may have lasted 20 or 30 minutes, intending to pass the edited footage on to the media.
Releasing body-worn footage would go some way to ensuring that officers do not face a ‘trial by social media’ in such circumstances, by enabling the public to understand more of the context of what happened leading up to an incident.