Forces need to redress the balance and release body-worn video footage to counter the criticism levelled at officers when members of the public post short clips of their interactions with the public on social media, the national chair of the Police Federation has argued.
John Apter says this would help show the full story behind the clips that, having appeared on social media, are often picked up by media outlets.
He has now requested a meeting with Martin Hewitt, chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, and Mike Cunningham, chief executive officer at the College of Policing, to discuss his concerns about the growing trend of officers being vilified when selective clips of their interactions with the public are shared on social media platforms and then broadcast by the media.
“These snippets rarely show the full facts,” he says, “They are purposefully selective in what they show and can be incredibly damaging for public confidence in policing, as inevitably some people will believe the one-sided story often presented.
“At a time when officers are doing their absolute best in difficult and trying circumstances, this unfounded and unfair criticism often leads to trial by media and is totally unacceptable. They are simply damned if they do and damned if they don’t.”
Maria Henry, chair of Gwent Police Federation, believes the national chair is right to call for more to be done to protect officers.
“It is grossly unfair on officers when these short clips are posted on social media, giving them no right of reply and often leading to a media storm,” says Maria, “These clips should not be seen in isolation. If forces are able to release officers’ footage from their body-worn cameras the public would be able to see the full context of their interactions with the public rather than a snapshot which could give a distorted view of an incident.”
The national chair wants to see urgent action.
He explained: “In these volatile cases where short clips are used against policing and police officers across all media, resulting in complaints against our members, we want Professional Standard Departments to expedite these investigations. In the event of the officer or officers being exonerated and, once the investigation has concluded in its entirety, we would urge forces to publicly release the BWV footage to redress the balance. I believe there is an urgent need for this to happen.
“I fully accept that it might not always be possible to release the BWV footage but doing nothing is not an option. We must take the necessary action to protect police officers from unfair vilification, as well as ensuring that public confidence in policing is not undermined.”
John said BWV was one of the biggest advances in policing in the last decade, allowing evidence to be collected but also capturing the full context of police interactions and showing the realities of policing.
Research led by the University of Cambridge’s Institution of Criminology shows BWV is associated with a 93 per cent reduction in complaints against police officers. The cameras are also a useful deterrent for those who may be considering assaulting an officer, as their actions will be caught on camera.