Police Forces in England & Wales should consider publicising police bodyworn video footage to protect officers and show the full story behind police interaction clips which appear on social media.
That is the view of National Chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) John Apter who has written to his counterpart at the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC).
The Federation is concerned with the growing trend of police officers being vilified after selective clips of police interactions are shared on social media and then broadcast by the media.
Over the past few months, there have been several edited video clips being widely shared on social media which show police officers having to retrain suspects.
These edited clips are often sold/passed on to the mainstream media.
The clips, which never show what happened in the moments before officers are forced to detain someone, often lead to the ‘trial by social media’ of the officers concerned.
The force concerned will then often refer themselves to the IOPC, which can result in protracted and lengthy investigations against the officers concerned.
These protracted and drawn-out investigations result in the officers often being suspended from frontline duties until the investigation into their action has been completed. But these investigations can often take several years to complete.
A prime example of this ‘trial by social media’ relates to an incident in July last year where several Met Police officers were forced to detain a male who had assaulted them.
The male concerned, Youness Bentahar, had been asked by officers to move his car after it had been left in a position on a public road that was causing an obstruction to other road users.
During the incident, police asked Bentahar on several occasions to move his vehicle, and he refused. He also refused to show the police officers his driving licence.
Bentahar assaulted two of the officers and was subsequently placed under arrest.
However, he continued to resist, and officers had to use reasonable force to detain Bentahar.
But a member of the public recorded only the part of the incident where officers tried to restrain Bentahar after he had assaulted them.
This partial footage was then passed to the mainstream media, which then led to a frenzy of hatred being directed at the officers who had been assaulted and who had been forced to detain the suspect.
Due, in part, to public pressure, the Met referred the matter and the officers involved in the arrest to the IOPC and, after a 12-month investigation, the IOPC found no wrongdoing on behalf of the officers who were involved in the incident.
Mr Apter has now called for a meeting with NPCC Chair Martin Hewitt and College of Policing Executive Mike Cunningham to discuss further.
“These snippets rarely show the full facts. They are purposefully selective in what they show and can be incredibly damaging for public confidence in policing, as inevitably some people will believe the one-sided story often presented.
“At a time when officers are doing their absolute best in difficult and trying circumstances, this unfounded and unfair criticism often leads to trial by media and is totally unacceptable. They are simply damned if they do and damned if they don’t.”
He added: “Bodyworn video (BWV) is one of the biggest advances in policing in the last decade, as not only does it allow the collection of evidence, it also captures the full context of police interactions and shows the reality of policing.”
Research led by the University of Cambridge’s Institution of Criminology shows the use of BWV is associated with a 93 per cent reduction in citizen complaints against police officers.
The cameras are also a useful deterrent for those who may be considering assaulting an officer, as their actions will be caught on camera.
Mr Apter continued:
“Given the way footage is being used against policing and police officers across all media, I would urge forces to be far more proactive in such circumstances, publicising BWV footage to redress the balance. I believe there is an urgent need for this to happen.
“I fully accept that it might not always be possible to release the BWV footage but doing nothing is not an option. We must take the necessary action to protect police officers from unfair vilification, as well as ensuring that public confidence in policing is not undermined,” he concluded.
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