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Releasing video clips won't win social media war, Met deputy warns


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Releasing body worn video to counter social media footage is not a simple solution, the Metropolitan Police's Deputy Commissioner has warned.


Open accessing body worn video images to counter adverse footage on social media is not the answer, according to Sir Steve House.

The Met’s Deputy Commissioner told the online Police Superintendents’ Association conference that sharing selective footage from officers would open the floodgates to demands from the public and media for access to all footage.

Sir Steve said that for senior leaders ethical considerations are becoming increasingly more important in decisions that involve the use of technology.

His comments followed a summer in which Met officers have been challenged on social media over their contacts with the public including the stop and search of two Olympic athletes in Maida Vale.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct is investigating several forces after high-profile incidents.

Frontline officers have called on forces to do more to support them after they are filmed while carrying out their duties. One officer has told Police Oracle that sharing body worn video (BWV) footage from the incident should be an option.

Sir Steve said this was possible to release footage where a threat to public order had developed but it also could be counter-productive.

The Met now has 22,000 officers using body worn video – and 80,000 segments of evidence uploaded each week. The technology is already being extended to live streaming.

But it was not the easy answer to fix community tensions, he warned.

“We will only release full BWV footage in extremis. There are all sorts of considerations. Is the BWV going to be used in evidence? Are all parties happy that it’s going to be released? Some officers have not been keen… even with their faces pixelated.”

Data Protection impact assessments (DPIA) also had to be a part of the process in deciding if footage would be shared by a police force.

He added there was a further dilemma: “If we release BWV when it makes us looks good… do we then release BWV in every case when we are asked to?”

Sir Steve said the reality of policing was something that most members of the public would not take into account when viewing situations where physical forces is used.

He said: “Many of the tactics that we use, frankly look bad. One officer cannot restrain a violent offender. Sometimes it can take four or five. It looks bad.”

But he also advised officers that the growth of technology meant big changes were coming, particularly making greater use of artificial intelligence in policing decisions.

Private sector organisations, particularly in the insurance and banking industries, are already using these to assess documents. The Met inquiry into the fire at Grenfell tower has involved assessing millions of pages of documents, images and emails.

He highlighted how the investigation into the 7 July bombings in 2005 assessed 4 terabytes of data. A typical investigation now can involve 97 terabytes.

“It will allow us to deliver better policing,” he said. “There is an unstable adoption of artificial intelligence and machine learning by the private sector. We have to make use of them.”

But he added the public would still want the reassurance of a police officer as most people would rather be assessed by a doctor rather than a machine even though it is more accurate.

He asked officers and policymakers to consider the capability police forces will need: “Does the UK quite like the police service being a couple of steps behind the private sector?”

But across all the developments around new technology, ethical decisions were part of the process.

“The central dilemma just because we can do something, doesn’t mean we should do something,” Sir Steve said.

Kent Police has made use of predictive technology to work out where an offence was likely to take place and his own forces is trying to develop the use of facial recognition cameras.

Progress is being hampered by the fact that successive governments have failed to engage with the latest developments.

“There’s a lack of legislation, that gives us all sorts of problems in terms of parameters,” he said.

Public perceptions about how the police use technology was also a problem. The Met had been accused of creating ‘Big Brother’ surveillance despite the reality that its equipment amounted to “a green van with two cameras and a laptop”.

“The public think we have a far greater capability of technology than we actually do,” he said.

Doubts over the use of technology has translated into support for facial recognition technology being lower from younger people and BAME groups.

Sir Steve said the force is committed to the development of the technology: “We will continue to do so but we will take on board the outcomes from the recent court case. We are confident we can do that.”

Ultimately, there had to be “a human in the loop”.

He said: “It’s not an algorythmn that arrests someone, it’s a police officer… and they have to be happy that an arrest is justified.”

Mobile working and working from home, particularly during the COVID-19 outbreak, had also presented challenges to working practices. Officers accessing emails on trains was one example.

“We have to be fair as an organisation about this. We are talking about senior officers here. Superintendents work very long hours, some hours that are far too long . That needs to be dealt with. I will be frank. I only worked from home for one day and I detested it. I felt like a hamster on a wheel,” he said.

“Work on the train becomes much more nebulous. It’s much more difficult. Tech is making the lines more blurred between work life and non-work life and we have to modernise to reflect that.”

View On Police Oracle

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I'm not sure: “Many of the tactics that we use, frankly look bad. One officer cannot restrain a violent offender. Sometimes it can take four or five. It looks bad.”

Is a valid answer. People may think restraint looks bad, so why don't we counter that, educate and demonstrate. 

People have real trust issues with the police. We hedge our bets, talk around issues and speak in management words. People can believe video, can understand a little more. It won't solve everything and the issue of evidence being used will have to be considered. But we can literally release footage of a contentious arrest in less then a hour of we wanted to. Rather than wait the 4 years for the courts to turn things around. 

Worrying if everyone will want footage is a fallacy. They may, but it's our job to ballance risk, justify it and document it. 

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It is not Sir Steve House who is facing the criticism. The officer involved in the incident deserves to have his name cleared, completely.  A 30 second clip from someone's mobile phone can bare no possible resemblance to an incident that has, perhaps, lasted and been filmed on BWV for something like 15 minutes.

By the time an incident gets to Court the public have forgotten all about the incident. What they remember is the apparent unreasonable and violent conduct of the officers. The fact that, if fact, they may have been fighting for their lives makes no different months, even years afterwards. If it was done immediately then it would be material to the whole of society, critics and all.

It is not very often that a Senior Officer fronts up to the camera's and says that an incident as circulated on social media is giving a completely false impression to the facts.  

Sometimes, it could be possible that the officers are acting wrongly but, in the highest majority of times they are acting correctly with a member of the pubic, for some reason, is trying to fit them up.   Officers in the front line deserve backup and support from their Senior Management.

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I'd rather Mr House kept his opinion to himself. I am disgusted that the senior officer who signs a proforma MG11 on my behalf several times a year when I get assaulted on duty, in an apparent sign of solidarity to junior ranks... would then go on record that he is concerned by his officers actions and what not so quickly.


What side of the table are you actually sat on Sir? Very disappointed when you made those comments based upon a viral clip in the first place creating a media storm.

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