As published in The Times:
Officers must wear cameras to regain the public’s trust
Police officers should wear cameras and microphones to record all contact with the public amid a “crisis of ethics”, a senior Tory politician says today.
David Davis, the former Shadow Home Secretary, argues in The Times that the Plebgate affair is the latest example in decades of “clumsy cover-ups” by the police, stretching from the Birmingham Six miscarriage of justice, to the Hillsborough tragedy and the deaths of Jean Charles de Menezes and Ian Tomlinson.
In the most scathing critique of police culture delivered from the Tory benches, Mr Davis says that the police complaints watchdog, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, has to become tougher, “a British Untouchables”, and the time has come for a fundamental change in police conduct and culture.
Body-worn camera technology, which is already being tested by some forces, could help to drive that change by making officers think about how they conduct themselves in public.
“Britain needs root-and-branch reform of policing culture, a feat beyond the powers of even a powerful independent regulator,” Mr Davis says. “The Government should appoint a Royal Commission to investigate the conduct of the police. The lessons about what behaviour is expected from a British police officer should be instilled from Day 1.”
His call comes as MPs on the Home Affairs Select Committee prepare to question three chief constables, the leaders of the IPCC and Police Federation officials about Plebgate.
Behind-the-scenes manoeuvring was continuing last night with David Shaw, Chief Constable of West Mercia Police, considering reopening the decision process which last week saw three officers escape misconduct proceedings over an alleged attempt to discredit Andrew Mitchell, the former Tory Chief Whip.
The move raised the prospect that the officers could yet face a tribunal over their behaviour towards Mr Mitchell a year ago.
The dispute over whether or not Mr Mitchell used the word “pleb” during a 45-second confrontation with Downing Street police, and the subsequent campaign by sections of the Police Federation to drive him from office, have created a national debate over public confidence in the police.
Today’s hearings will not not draw the heat from the argument. There will be further committee sessions next week when the national Police Federation leadership will be questioned by MPs about their relationship with Jon Gaunt, the communications adviser, and their campaign against government policing policy.
Keith Vaz, the committee chairman, said that MPs would produce a report on an issue that “has huge implications for trust in the police”.
The Crown Prosecution Service is also expected to announce its decision soon on whether any Metropolitan Police officers will be charged over the leak to the media of the police log on the Downing Street incident, the falsification of evidence and any alleged conspiracy against Mr Mitchell.
Mr Davis’s proposal for police to wear body cameras is already in the pipeline, with the newly established College of Policing starting a trial with up to five forces to see if their use reduces both the force used by officers and the number of complaints about police behaviour.
One supplier said that hundreds of body-worn cameras were already in use on a trial basis across the UK. Cameras can be worn on the body, attached to special spectacles or fitted on Taser stun guns to document incidents.
The college has been studying an experiment in California where the use of cameras in the city of Rialto led to an 88 per cent fall in complaints and a reported 60 per cent fall in the use of force during 12 months. It is also drawing up a code of ethics.
Alex Marshall, the college’s chief executive, said: “A small number of forces are already using body-worn video to help in prosecutions where the victim or witness may be vulnerable. We see these trials as also being beneficial in reducing police use of force and public complaints against police.”
At a cost of about £300 each, the bill for fitting out the 130,000 officers in England and Wales with cameras would be £39 million and would raise questions of privacy and surveillance.
The Government is unlikely to welcome Mr Davis’s call for a Royal Commission, an idea also favoured by the Police Federation.