Warning over 'lack of consistency' in Taser police wearing bodycams
A "complete lack of consistency" among police forces in the deployment of body cameras to officers armed with Tasers has been exposed in a new survey.
Despite some top officers describing the technology as "effective" and "vital" to 21st century policing, many forces have not completed a full rollout and at least one has said it has no current plan to adopt the cameras, which record what happens during incidents.
A survey by the Press Association of the UK's 45 territorial forces has revealed a disjointed approach to equipping officers with body-worn video (BWV).
The issue has been highlighted following the death of former football star Dalian Atkinson after he was Tasered in Telford, Shropshire, on August 15.
A criminal investigation is under way, but following the 48-year-old's death it emerged that the officers involved, from West Mercia Police, had not been equipped with BWV.
Mr Atkinson's family has since called for all Taser-equipped officers to be issued with bodycams as standard.
However, the College of Policing said there was "no specific guidance" for issuing armed officers with bodycams, although it did issue advice on BWV use in 2014.
Both the Home Office and the National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC) have said the use of BWVs is an "operational" decision for each force.
But the chairman of the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, Keith Vaz, said the "complete lack of consistency" across forces should "raise alarm bells", especially in light of Mr Atkinson's death.
Last year, an inquest jury found that the use of a Taser by Greater Manchester Police (GMP) officers had contributed to the death of 23-year-old Jordan Begley from a cardiac arrest in July 2013.
Afterwards, his mother, Dorothy Begley, called for bodycams to be routinely used by police.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has recently sought a judicial review to overturn its own report into Mr Begley's death, which initially cleared GMP officers of any wrongdoing.
Separately, following Mr Atkinson's death, the IPCC has said two West Mercia officers are "under criminal investigation", having been suspended and issued with gross misconduct notices.
The ex-Aston Villa player's nephew, Fabian Atkinson, has called for Taser officers to wear bodycams as standard.
He said: "If they have a weapon and they're going to discharge that weapon, then they need a camera to record that."
Mr Vaz, Labour MP for Leicester East, said: "The complete lack of consistency in the various police forces' approach to body-worn cameras and Taser should raise alarm bells following the tragic death of Dalian Atkinson.
"We need transparency from forces and clear guidance from national bodies, but organisations like the College of Policing are still unable to provide the leadership needed on these difficult issues.
"In the light of recent events, the Home Office must take action to ensure there is a far more co-ordinated national approach to the use of Tasers, which should be treated with the same respect as firearms.
"It isn't right that crossing an arbitrary border within the UK would present you with completely separate policies on the use of potentially deadly weapons."
A Home Office spokesman said: "Body-worn video can be a powerful tool and we fully support exploiting new technology to help cut crime wherever possible.
He added: "The College of Policing published interim operational guidance in July 2014 which recognises the role of BWV in supporting transparency, trust and confidence in the police."
The national picture has revealed a spectrum of responses by forces on the issue.
For example, in Leicestershire, all frontline officers are equipped with the cameras, while in London the Metropolitan Police are rolling out 22,000 cameras in a programme which is expected to be complete by summer 2017.
Surrey Police are reviewing use of bodycams for its firearms officers, while City of London Police have said they will be equipping their firearms teams with the technology "before the end of the year".
That was contrasted with the position of North Yorkshire Police, who said that, while they have used bodycams "to a limited degree" in the past, they were not currently investing in the technology although they would keep the decision under consideration.
Greater Manchester Police (GMP) had already announced a roll-out of 3,000 cameras in July to be completed by the end of the year.
The force said officers in the neighbourhood teams, hostage and crisis negotiation, roads policing and intercept, tactical aid, and tactical dog units, and at the airport would be given bodycams.
GMP Assistant Chief Constable Garry Shewan said: "Bodycams are a valuable evidential tool during cases, while victims of domestic abuse have been saved from giving evidence because of the footage provided.
"This rollout has been part of our plans to improve the service that we provide to the public since summer 2013 and since then we have had 80 cameras active amongst our response teams in Manchester on a trial basis, to test their effectiveness and their practical use day-to-day."
At West Mercia Police, Assistant Chief Constable Amanda Blakeman said the force was "committed to routine use of video recording devices by officers on patrol".
However she added that officers did not routinely use BWV and they were looking at their options.
She said: "It is our intention to find a single solution that meets the needs of patrol officers as well as those who perform specialist roles, including those who routinely carry Taser.
"We are fully aware of NPCC's guidance on this subject and are working with the national leads for BWV, Taser, pursuit and armed policing."
West Mercia is among some forces who have said there are still issues with the technology to iron out, including Devon and Cornwall Police, who said they needed to solve a "data storage" problem before considering uptake of BWV.
Other forces like Sussex, Gwent, Lincolnshire and Staffordshire have moved ahead with bodycams.
A Sussex Police spokesman said "every officer responding to an emergency call will now be able to film the incident with personal issue cameras", having originally started trialling BWV back in 2008.
Chief Inspector Neil Hulme, of Staffordshire Police, who is the force lead on bodycams, said the technology had been rolled out to "all uniformed officers, including those who are Taser trained", with 550 pool cameras ready for use.
He said: "Body-worn video is very effective, it captures events as they happen, often defuses potentially violent situations and provides speedier justice for victims as offenders are more likely to plead guilty."
Gwent Police said they rolled out the cameras in August 2015 for operational uniformed officers which "includes officers who are issued with Tasers".
Chief Superintendent Emma Ackland, who led the force-wide rollout, said: "Body-worn cameras have become an integral part of policing within Gwent."
Police use of Tasers, which are intended as a non-lethal weapon, went up slightly last year, with 10,329 uses by forces in England and Wales, a 2% rise on the previous year. However, of those, 19% (1,921) were discharges - a decrease of 3% from the previous year.
Richard Bennett, uniformed policing lead at the College of Policing, said: "As the professional body for policing, the College supports forces with training on conducted energy devices (Taser), which is amongst the longest and most comprehensive in the world.
"We issued guidance on body-worn video and carried out two extensive trials to examine how effective it is in areas including domestic abuse, stop and search, arrests and police complaints.
"Although forces make decisions independently, the trial evidence has shown body-worn video can reduce the number of allegations against officers and forces can use this evidence to inform operational decisions to purchase new technology.
"Through the development of guidance, the College is providing national leadership to increase consistency in the level of service received by the public across the country."
National Police Chiefs' Council deputy assistant commissioner Neil Basu said: "The use of Taser and body worn video by police forces in England and Wales is governed by authorised professional practice developed by the College of Policing and agreed with chief officers at a national level.
"I fully support the use of body worn video, in particular when officers are deployed with Taser, to maximise transparency and accountability. Each police force is operationally independent and this is ultimately a decision for the local chief constable."