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Police Scotland's £13m step into 21st century will put truth of many incidents beyond doubt

This is my latest column in the Scotsman, published today 25th June 2024.


Cameras are everywhere in modern society. Finally, police officers are about to get personal, tamper-proof ones that should quickly clear up many disputes.


Thank goodness Police Scotland have been given the money to equip all its frontline officers with body-worn cameras. It will bring us into line with the rest of the UK and finally drag us into the 21st century.


Body cameras are as essential to modern policing as a notebook and pencil were to my early years, and they will save us a fortune. These cameras are simple to use and tamper-proof. They are activated by the officer on the approach to any incident and provide high-quality film of what transpires. The rollout of this equipment is long overdue, its need rightly recognised by former Lord Advocate Eilish Angelini in her review of the handling of police complaints. The fact that implementation has taken so long reflects the chronically underfunded police capital budget.


These cameras will hopefully bring a welcome balance and objectivity. Now that most people have video phones, we seem to have spawned a new breed of bystander. Instead of lending a hand, they delight in filming incidents they come across before selectively editing and plastering the film on social media. Worse, such videos are frequently accompanied by strongly held views, unencumbered by knowledge or experience.


Police Scotland's officers are to be fitted with body-worn cameras (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images).


Now at least there will be a record of events, filmed as it happened and without the selective editing. Body cameras will surely improve the behaviour of the wearer and most rational members of the public. This is not to suggest that bad behaviour is common, but it’s simple human nature to mind your Ps and Qs when under scrutiny.


Not a surveillance state

Another advantage is that the film will provide first-class evidence. There is nothing to fear and everything to gain from this equipment. Just as the cameras may identify police wrongdoing they will also protect police from vexatious complaints.


We live in a time when we’re being constantly filmed. CCTV is commonplace, highway cameras are widespread and private security systems seem to be everywhere. Every time you make a purchase from a supermarket or a garage, you are being filmed. This excites those who fear a surveillance state but not me. Nothing to hide, nothing to fear as far as I’m concerned.


Sheku Bayoh’s death

And police body cameras will prove good value – £13 million is a lot of money but consider if, in 2015, police in Kirkcaldy had been equipped with body cameras. We would have had a much better view of what really happened when the tragic Sheku Bayoh was arrested. We would have film of his behaviour and the struggle that preceded his death in custody.


We could have judged the conduct of the police officers who attended and perhaps gained an understanding of just how desperate and violent such incidents can become. Perhaps we could have stood up or disproved the claims of racism so amply applied because Bayoh was black. Perhaps the picture would have been so clear that there would have been no need for the public inquiry into his death, presently costing £18 million and counting.


How much better would it have been for our hard-earned public funds to have been spent on equipment to protect us all, rather than ending up in the pockets of lawyers. Police body cameras are spend-to-save items. They can’t come soon enough.


My article can also be viewed at www.scotsman.com.

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