Saturday, 20 December 2008

Cops with cameras

As most frontline coppers do, I like to watch stuff like Road Wars and some of the other Police Camera Action type programs when I'm on my days off. It is very 'job pissed' but handy for a bit of shouting at the TV, snippets of useful procedures and techniques and a bit of a laugh at what some people do on camera, no matter what side of the criminal justice fence they operate on.

One program that got my interest was called "cops with cameras". Compared to some of the others it's not that great but the basic premise works quite well - strap a load of miked up body cams to a team of officers from different units and watch what happens.

One particular clip caught my eye, two response officers were searching for a guy with a huge knife threatening random people in the streets, they split up to search a building line and one runs into the suspect who doesn't decide to drop the knife and come quietly. Funny that. The ensuing fistfight and struggle was caught on both cams as the other officer went to help and it looked exactly the same as any other violent struggle - lots of punching, lots of screaming and shouting and not an iota of Steven Seagal-esque flawless armlocks or body throws to take down the suspect in a couple of 'nice on TV' moves.

Needless to say it didn't look particularly nice, but then anyone who as ever had to try and restrain someone who doesn't want to be restrained will tell you that violent use of force doesn't look nice. It's not supposed to.

A couple of weeks ago the Mark Aspinall video brought out the same criticism of the Police that usually happens when a routine arrest appears to go over the top. I think there are three things missing from the video which would have given a considerably clearer picture of what happened - the other 7 minutes of CCTV conveniently missing from the news stories, audio of the entire incident, and close up audio/video that would have been recorded had the officers worn cameras. Having watched the vid a couple of times, the strikes/punches were clearly Home office approved officer safety techniques to deaden a muscle group - they are aimed at the shoulder and stop when his arm goes back into the cuff. Despite the hundreds of armchair experts saying we can't use punches, we can, it's approved, trained, and used when we need it.

The only thing I would have done differently in that situation would be to pin the guys head to the pavement with both hands and all my bodyweight, exactly as I described in this post, which funnily enough says about biting - which Aspinall did. As soon as you pin the head you neutralise the use of the neck, shoulder and back muscles which makes it considerably easier to get someones arm into a cuff, which Aspinalls clearly wasn't at the time he was punched.

Last year the video of 'epilepsy sufferer' Toni Cromer caused exactly the same stir and the media was all over it with accusations of brutality, racism and victimisation after PC Mulhall used several strikes on her during a violent arrest outside a club. The story ran for a couple of days until Cromer admitted during an interview on Sky News about having drunk a bottle of Brandy, having never had an epileptic fit in her life, admitted that she did not suffer any injury inconsistent with a restraint (arm bruises and cuffbites), admitted that she had pleaded guilty to criminal damage and admitted that it had never crossed her mind to pursue an allegation of assault by the Police, despite the video being shown in court. That was until convicted racist Ruggie Johnson decided to try and make a name for himself and released the video to the press claiming racism. PC Mulhall was dragged through the mud, and worse.

After investigation the IPCC and the CPS confirmed that the use of force was completely justified and legal, PC Mulhall was exonerated. The media never gave as much coverage to this fact as they did of the original story, even after PC Mulhalls apparent suicide a year later. I cannot help but wonder if he had a camera on him, with mike, would it had prevented those allegations in the first place?

There is only so much you can describe in a statement about an arrest. Even if you go into 8-10 pages describing everything about the scene, the suspects actions, your actions, what observers did, history etc, it still doesn't show the incident as well as video footage. As they say, a picture says a thousand words, and I've always firmly believed that writing how someone was violent, aggressive and fought whilst being arrested pales into comparison when you show a video that could be an outtake from '28 Days Later'.

There are obvious limitations with CCTV such as range, coverage and lack of audio. There are also going to be occasions where an officers memory of an incident differs from the footage, especially when extreme stress, violence and adrenalin are factors in perceptual distortion, which can lead to accusations of lying. I was involved in an arrest a couple of years ago where a drunk bloke was threatening people outside a club with a knife and a broken bottle. My mate and I rushed him and ended up struggling on the floor before we managed to get him cuffed. Thinking about it right now I clearly remember being only a couple of feet away and fighting to control his arms and disarm him for several minutes before a van turned up. The CCTV however showed that we were around 15-20 feet away before we ran at him and we managed to get him disarmed and cuffed in less than a minute, and the van arrived almost immediately.

I believe that for the vast majority of arrests and incidents, an eye's and ear's view would show courts and the public what it's really like when we deal with people - specifically those who don't want to be dealt with - and how completely unrealistic many of the expectations of how we should deal with suspects actually are. Given the current problem of Police officers accounts not being believed by the media or the public (despite evidence supporting the accounts) I think that frontline officers having body worn cameras is a vital tool that we could benefit from.



weepeecee said...

I have a feeling that 'cops with cameras' are given special indestructable kit that doesn't stop working as soon as someone knocks it.

Metcountymounty said...

not true, I saw some of them get broken during filming!! The kit isn't too expensive anymore, Firebox do a small digital camera with audio the size of a dryboard marker for under £100 for attaching to bikes/helmets etc and I've seen those things take a beating and still work fine. I expect the job would pay out for slightly more expensive and considerably more crap kit under the banner of 'fit for purpose' though. All you'd need for the on market cams is a way to download and store the captured images, or constantly fork out for new SD cards for each officer on the start of each shift!!

weepeecee said...

Ah, I shall stop being so cynical then :)

ginnersinner said...

I'd love to have a body mounted camera - instead of the usual argument about the five different versions of a section 5 which result in an acquittal, you'd just produce the tape as your original note!!! The only problem would be that the camera would be another excuse for the CPS to drop it. Didn't record? NFA. Switched off? NFA. Out of battery? NFA. Lens cap on? NFA. Forgot to fill in form 3282a with each disc for the last five years? NFA and Reg 9!!!

Any excuse, I tell you.

Metcountymounty said...

ginnersinner - I agree that if something goes wrong with the recording then they would likely bin the job, the other problem is accusations of what happens between recording such as in the nick. Won't take much for a defence solicitor to accuse someone of winding their client up before which is why they acted that way, and with only a recording of the offence and not of the times in between I could easily see a gullible/spineless mag bin the job - if the CPS even ran with it.

We get the same accusations at the moment with bog standard CCTV so I don't see the problem in bringing in extra evidence that goes in our favour!

Max said...

I remember watching the PC MULHALL incident and thinking how many times I had used the same technique. It is one of my favorites, as not being the tallest of people I like taking the fight to the ground where I can grapple and use distraction strikes to get the cuffs on. That could have been anyone of us.

In reference to the cameras, our force have bought the biggest (probably cheapest) horrible head cams. They stay in the car as most have us have no room to put them anywhere and from a health and safety point of view scrotes like to choke us with the cables. I have seen in the US taser cams which fit on the bottom of the pistol grip. Maybe a good ass covering tool for the wider rollout?

Metcountymounty said...

Max, I've seen some of those headcams being worn by some officers from my old force, they just look stupid and way too cumbersome, the ones I was talking about mount to shoulders and are a single unit so no hooj battery back or cable etc. The taser cams are an excellent idea assuming they are automatic as soon as the unit is drawn?

Max said...

i'll let you know about the taser cams, i'm expecting my taser trainer course late jan/early feb , however I doubt the powers that be have even considered them though.

Im guessing the taser cams are activated on the release of the safety catch of the taser?

Blue Eyes said...

The cameras would have to be pretty light and the batteries good. I suspect that front line officers would prefer not to have yet more heavy stuff!

PC Pinkstone recently did a post about CCTV and how things can look from different angles. It's a tough one.

TheBinarySurfer said...

While i don't think it would help secure convictions in itself, it might give the jury or the mags less inclination to listen to the mitigation when they see a spitting, swearing, biteing, punchy little twat deciding it'd be fun to resist arrest.

Still doesn't solve the basic problem that the public (more specificially, the media) collectively distrusts the police so much that even solid evidence proving their innocence is often ignore.

Short of installing mind-reading helmets on all coppers, i don't see how much further you can go to prove your arrest methods are justified.

Bridge said...

Whatever happened to taking the word of a sworn officer over that of a known scrotal wart? It's the same in teaching - it won't be long before we're asking for cameras in the classrooms to prove that the kids are lying when they tell SMT that we took a dump on the floor in front of the class so that the teacher gets suspended while they relish the prospect of some supply teacher meat.