Proper mechanism needed to govern use of body cams

  • Nation
  • Saturday, 21 Sep 2019

PETALING JAYA: There should be a proper mechanism to govern the government's proposal to fit body cameras on enforcement personnel, especially the police, says Dave Avran, founder of Malaysians Against Rape, Assault and Snatch Theft (Marah).

"Body-worn cameras will certainly assist in issues of misconduct, corruption and deaths in custody.

"However, we have to accept that while these tools aid transparency and are the best available evidence that is neutral, they're not foolproof," he said.

"If the camera is left on at all times, data accumulates rapidly and storage becomes an issue.

"Secondly, the traditional method of recording is for the officer to turn the device on when recording is necessary, and turn it off when cleared to do so, hence introducing the possible element of operator override or error.

"The best method to follow is the 'once recorded, it's recorded', with every frame encrypted and uploaded in real time to the cloud.

"The only people allowed to view the footage must be verified administrators or higher ranking police chiefs," said Avran, who said the system must work like a digital evidence room.

"You must be verified to access a video, and your viewing logged exactly as you would to enter a brick-and-mortar evidence room in the traditional police station.

"The log must also keep track of what the viewing officer does to the footage, whether it be applying tags to identify the situation or copying it for their investigation or court use.

"The original video must remain saved as it is," he said.

Universiti Sains Malaysia criminologist and psychologist Assoc Prof Dr Geshina Ayu Mat Saat said the use of body-worn cameras (BWC) was not surprising, given that it is far cheaper to implement proactive crime prevention technology that works then reactive crime prevention measures.

"It is definitely far cheaper compared to the reactive crime prevention costs incurred for training, retraining, and the consequences of lack of integrity.

"Research has shown that BWCs enhance not only enforcement personnel's compliance with procedures, but also improve interactions between enforcement personnel and the public, including suspect cooperation, and reduces incidents of escalated violence," she said.

Other benefits evident from past research include restoring confidence in policing, reducing complaints against enforcement personnel and agencies, readily available evidence for use in court, creating new jobs, serving as as a mechanism that reflects professionalism in policing, and integrating the use of digital forensics, Dr Geshina added.

"Past studies and authors have shown that the use of BWC increases transparency of frontline policing. Integrity can be reasonably assured.

"It is mentioned here that possibilities of law violations and misconduct displacements can occur outside of active duty and in situations where BWC are not in use, especially when there is motivation or benefit to do so.

She said the use of BWCs would reduce opportunities to commit violation or misconduct.

However, Dr Geshina said some individuals might raise the issue of rights to privacy.

"As a counter-argument, since policing does require a specific standard of integrity, transparency and accountability, using BWC as part of active police work in itself should therefore not be seen as a violation of personal rights, especially in the face of national security and safety," she said.

Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Abdul Hamid Bador also lauded the government's decision, saying it could prevent abuse and ensure transparency.

In welcoming the proposal, he thanked the government and hoped the move could be realised as soon as possible.

"This body camera will help a lot in enforcement duties and avoid any misconduct while on duty. The device can also be used as evidence for allegations of misconduct thrown at the police force," he said.

On Thursday (Sept 19), Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad announced that policemen and other officers involved in enforcement may soon be equipped with body cameras to increase the level of transparency.

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