“Body cameras help to record what happens. It may not be the ‘golden ticket’, the ‘golden egg’, the ‘end-all-fix-all’, but it helps to paint a picture of what happens during a police stop”.Clementa C. Pinckney (1973 – 2015), Pastor and U.S Senator.

Useful. Impactful. Controversial. These are just three adjectives that have been used to describe the proliferation of body-worn camera technology within the security industry.

During our recent study of violence experienced by security personnel, quite a few of the security operatives we spoke to offered very positive feedback regarding the use of body-worn cameras (BWCs) as a deterrent.

One respondent told us that BWCs “had a definite effect on decreasing the frequency of incidental violence, especially from members of the public [that have been] knocked back on the door”.

This sentiment was echoed multiple times in our survey.

As BWC technology becomes more affordable and accessible, proliferating alongside similar technology being operated by the general public, its usage will likely become more common within the security industry.

Escalating levels of violence against security workers could potentially facilitate this proliferation to the point that body cameras become standard equipment for all licensed door supervisors and security guards.

In this feature, we’ll take an in-depth look at BWCs; how they work, how best to use them, what to look for when buying one and what their implications may be, both for the security industry and the wider society as a whole.

What is a Body-Worn Camera?

In simplest terms, a body-worn camera (alternatively known as a ‘BWC’, ‘body-camera’, ‘body-worn video’, ‘BWV’, ‘body-cam’ or ‘body-mounted camera’) is any camera designed to be attached to a human body.

Some BWCs are worn as part of glasses, on helmets or other headgear, or simply as ‘head-cameras’. BWCs may also be mounted on the shoulder or chest.

The camera itself typically features a forward-facing viewable area and will often come equipped with a ‘time-stamp’ feature, as well as features such as infrared ‘night-vision’ capabilities, GPS location data, microphones for capturing audio, various security options (such as password protection and data encryption) and the basic physical protections required for technology designed for use outdoors (i.e., an IP rating of 65 or higher)

A BWC will also come with a method for attaching it to a person’s uniform or clothing (usually in the form of an adjustable harness or clip). 

BWCs are typically worn to record certain events, either on video or via still photographs. Civilian use of BWCs might include the capture of sporting or athletic achievements from a first-person viewpoint or gathering evidence in cases of domestic violence. BWCs are also routinely used by police, as well as some emergency services.

In the area of security work, BWCs are used to not only gather evidence, but also to deter would-be assault and antisocial behaviour, as well as to disprove groundless claims of improper conduct made against security workers by disgruntled patrons.

How do Body-Worn Cameras Work?

A BWC is, essentially, the same as any other digital video camera. First, sensors translate light into images. These images are then converted into computer pixels and are stored, either on the camera itself, or else transferred for storage elsewhere.

BWC operators will not, in most cases, record their entire shift. Battery life varies from model-to-model, but even in the rare case that the claim ‘12 hours’ battery life’ turns out to be true, the camera will probably not be able to store that much continuous footage.

Instead, a BWC is usually activated just before a security operative begins an interaction with a member of the public, or immediately after noticing that an incident is taking place. In most cases, a small light will appear to indicate that the patron is being filmed.

It will also be possible, at least with models that feature a front-facing viewing area, for the patron to see the footage as it is being captured.

Many BWCs will save footage taken for 30 seconds or so before the ‘record’ button is pressed. This helps to gain a clearer depiction of the events captured on film.

BWCs capture footage in short intervals, usually ranging from 30 seconds to around 5 minutes (although this can be as high as 30 minutes). Despite storing footage in short clips, playback is usually continuous.

Some BWCs store data internally, or via MicroSD cards, while others employ cloud storage. Some also allow for real-time streaming.

Who Uses Body-Worn Cameras (& Why)?

UK police were among the first to adopt body camera technology, holding trials as far back as 2005. Today, BWCs are used by a great many professions, including healthcare providers, the armed forces, railway workers, the fire brigade, the secret service, undercover journalists and many more.

Occasionally even local politicians will use them to record their interactions with the general public.

BWCs are also used by extreme sports practitioners and other thrill-seekers, as well as YouTubers, athletes and anybody wishing to capture a first-person, ‘up-close-and-personal’ perspective of the events they film.

The exact reasons for using BWCs depend greatly on what they are being used for. In the case of skydivers, for example, a BWC is much easier to use and carry when leaping out of a plane – and there is far less chance of losing or damaging it. In addition, the footage will have an evocative, immediate quality that better translates the feeling of skydiving to the viewer.

In the case of police (or other emergency services), BWCs are used for two main reasons. The first is to accurately record the officer’s interactions with the public and the second is to ensure that police officers are doing their jobs properly.

In this manner, if a person should complain that an officer’s conduct was in some way unlawful or inappropriate, the video footage could be reviewed by the officer’s superiors and a judgement could be made as to whether or not the officer exceeded the bounds of propriety at any point.

When used in a professional context (such as by security operatives), BWCs are used to provide a greater degree of transparency and accountability, as well as being a superior form of evidence gathering.

In cases of criminal prosecution, such as assaults perpetrated against security workers, BWC’s can provide clear and direct evidence of the crime, bypassing entirely the usual defences of ‘your word against theirs’ and ‘mistaken identity’.

If a security worker is assaulted while their BWC is in operation, the high likelihood is that the perpetrator will be captured on camera and subsequently identified. This could lead directly to the prosecution of violent individuals.

Other key benefits can include BWCs working as a deterrent against would-be attackers and other criminals. Body camera usage may also increase the civility displayed by both the operative and the patron (the theory being that if both parties are aware that they are on camera, neither is likely to be rude or abusive).

BWCs also allow complaints to be explored in a much more efficient and expedient manner. In cases where an expensive (and extensive) investigation may have been required, now the relevant parties may simply review the footage and see if the operative in question acted correctly or not.

There is also a great opportunity to use BWCs for training, not only among newly licensed operatives, but also for others undergoing training to view footage from certain incidents and see how the seasoned operatives handle difficult situations.

Guidance for Use

“The rush to outfit officers with body cameras has largely outpaced any sensible policies designed to supervise their use”. – Ava Kofman, writing for U.S Magazine The Nation (2015).

In order to maximise the benefits of BWC usage (as well as justify the expense), a proper procedure must be followed at all times.

This procedure should be decided upon by the company or venue before being written down and disseminated among all staff. BWC procedure must also be created in full compliance with UK law (see the guidance below) and with the input of experienced security professionals.

All workers that are to be issued with BWCs should also receive at least some training regarding their use.

It would certainly be undesirable if a security operative were to become involved in a violent incident and fail to capture it on film due to a lack of ability with the camera. This would be especially problematic in cases whereby the operative was accused of professional misconduct, as an explanation like “I couldn’t work the camera” would simply make them appear to be guilty.

In cases where the camera is not voice-activated, the ‘record’ button should be pressed as soon as an incident begins. Incidents often escalate quickly. The operative should be instructed not to try to conserve battery life or memory space during these instances, but to leave the camera running right through until the culmination of the event. This allows for clear, uninterrupted evidence to be presented to police. Interrupted footage can lead to accusations of dishonesty on the part of the operative. This should be emphasised both by training and procedural guidelines.

Any footage taken should always be time-stamped and, where possible, easy to link to the person who shot it (many BWCs will also have this as a feature).

Again, it would be a problem if footage of an incident were taken, but that the identity of the person who shot the footage was contested for some reason. These are the types of ambiguities that often scupper criminal convictions.

Footage should be encrypted, protected, stored appropriately and accessed whenever needed. Where possible, it should be transferred to the police in an efficient and timely manner.

For security personnel, the best location for a BWC is the chest. The shoulder may offer a good perspective, but shoulder-mounted cameras are too easily blocked by an operative raising their arms. They are also easier to damage or block in instances of violence or use of force.

A BWC should easily blend in with the security operative’s uniform, both in terms of easy harness attachment as well as style. The appearance of a security operative is important, especially with regard to door supervisors. They must look smart and capable and the BWC should be seen as simply ‘part of the uniform’, rather than an overly obtuse and visible gadget.

Remember also that uniform requirements often change with the seasons, this should be taken on board when considering the deployment of BWCs.

Proper signage should also be deployed along with the cameras.

What to Look for When Buying

When buying a BWC, the first thing for the consumer to consider is what they are going to be using it for. For example, a camera designed for security use isn’t going to be particularly appropriate for a skateboarder – and vice versa.

What follows is a list of features that are desirable in a BWC being used for security purposes.

‘Quick Record’ Button – Highly useful in instances of emergency, a ‘quick record’ button allows the camera to be activated in an instant, with minimal fuss or difficulty.

Night Vision – Most BWCs (especially those used for security) feature an infrared (IR) ‘night vision’ mode. IR night vision works by flooding the immediate area with infrared light, which is invisible to the naked eye, but can be picked up by the camera. The result is that footage taken at night looks as bright as the day. Be sure to get a good range if purchasing a BWC to use at night.

IP Rating – An ‘Ingress Protection’ or ‘IP’ rating essentially describes how much dirt, dust, grit, sand or liquid the device can be exposed to without being compromised and/or damaged. A camera with a rating of IP 11, for example, would resist objects of more than 50mm in diameter, but would be at risk from smaller objects and would be basically useless in the rain. An IP rating of 68 would be totally dust-proof and fully immersible in water. As stated above, the average BWC will have an IP rating of 65, which will resist all-but the heaviest downpours. Essentially, when it comes to technology designed for use outdoors, the higher the IP rating, the better.

Audio – Not all BWCs record audio. For security purposes, audio recording is highly recommended. Ideally, clear audio recording should be possible from distances of around 1 metre (3 feet) or more.

Password Protection– This feature is of paramount importance to security work. If the camera is lost or stolen, it means that the footage cannot be accessed or tampered with in any way.

Time Stamp/User ID – These are also useful security features, as they tell the viewer exactly when the footage was filmed and by whom.

Card Storage – Card storage is useful as it gives you direct control over how much footage your camera can record. Cameras with a built-in memory (and no options for card or online storage) are severely limited and must be cleared regularly, or else old footage will simply be recorded over, often with no warning. An SD card with incriminating footage on it may be removed and kept as evidence, ensuring that no harm comes to it. We also recommend signing up to a data plan, although this must be with a very security-conscious provider as it involves an unknown third party. 

Good Battery Life – Ideally, you’ll want a battery that will last for an entire shift (10 -12 hours). However, most batteries will not last this long (a list that includes most of those that claim to). It is, therefore, a good idea to buy a camera with a removable battery, that way one battery can be charging up, while the other is in use. In any instance, the longer the battery life, the better.

Wide-Angle Lens – Generally speaking, a wide-angle lens (that is, a lens with a smaller-than-average focal length and therefore a wider field of view than the human eye) is better suited for security work than any other. This is because it can capture a wider view (and therefore a more complete image) than the average camera lens can. Wide angle lenses typically have a focal length of 40 – 58mm on a full frame camera.

1080p or Better – Image quality is important, especially with regards to footage that shows people’s faces. The better the image resolution, the higher your chances of obtaining a conviction should you ever need to.

If you are buying online, we strongly recommend reading some of the customer reviews for the product you wish to purchase. Not only will this give you a better idea of how well the device functions in specific circumstances, it can also provide a more realistic perspective than that of the manufacturer. It is also advisable to Google the cameras you are wishing to buy and read several independent (and therefore more objective) reviews of them.

Collecting & Storing Evidence

“There’s been a lot of talk about body cameras as a ‘silver bullet’ or a solution. I think the task force concluded that there is a role for technology to play in building additional trust and accountability, but it’s not a panacea. It has to be embedded in a broader change in culture and a legal framework that ensures that people’s privacy is respected and that not only police officers but the community themselves feel comfortable with how technologies are being used”.Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States.

Many BWCs, especially those designed for use by security or law enforcement, have built-in internal memory that cannot be removed, overwritten or even deleted until it has been uploaded and stored somewhere. In terms of evidence gathering, this is definitely preferable to a removable SD card that could theoretically be stolen, overwritten or simply destroyed.

Whatever journey the footage takes to get from point A to point B, it should always be stored on a secure system that can only be accessed by specific personnel. UK police have gotten into trouble in the past for simply storing footage on an insecure cloud provided by their camera’s manufacturer.

It’s also worth noting that, with regard to CCTV footage, UK law states that only a nominated data controller should be allowed access to CCTV. Although not a legal requirement for BWCs, this law should still govern the working practices of any security firm or venue using BWCs, as it respects privacy and demonstrates clear and transparent working practices.

Access to BWC footage should be handled and treated the same as CCTV footage is – i.e., restricted to a nominated data controller, or the subject of the footage once legal permission has been gained (as dictated by the terms of the Data Protection Act 2018). This not only does a lot to mitigate the possibility of evidence tampering, it could potentially also increase the likelihood of conviction, should the footage be used in court.

Additionally, any footage that is not incriminating should be deleted within 30 days or less. While there are no specific laws governing how long security footage may be kept, the ’30-Day Rule’ (if indeed it can be called that), is standard practice for companies that operate CCTV (this includes the police).

This ‘rule’ harkens back to the days of VHS security tapes, when such policies were necessary due to the limitations of the technology. Nevertheless, there is functionally no reason to keep footage that is not of any use for longer than a period of one month. Not only is it expensive to store, it also could be construed as an invasion of privacy. From a legal standpoint, keeping footage for no purpose, or for a purpose other than that for which it was initially taken, can land a company in hot water.

Of course, privacy is a key issue here. People have a right to privacy – and several British laws acknowledge and enshrine this. BWCs are more invasive than standard CCTV cameras for a few reasons. In addition to being less strictly governed than CCTV presently is, BWCs also take footage at a much closer proximity than most other forms of surveillance, capturing facial features in considerable detail. BWCs also record audio, which means that what a person says is recorded as well as what a person does.

Privacy is important – and not only because individual privacy is protected by law. Privacy laws (sometimes referred to as ‘data protection’ laws) benefit everyone and protect our personal information from being violated, taken without permission or otherwise misused.

Personal information is defined as any information that can be used to identify the person in question, this can include a person’s name and address, bank details, login codes, browser history, phone data (including call and text message history), social media activities, employment history, qualifications and much more besides.

Theoretically, if any of the above information could be taken by an unscrupulous person, the victim of that theft would potentially find themselves at risk from numerous types of harm, including physical.

Privacy laws, therefore, govern what specific pieces of information may be stored by any party (for example, an online business) regarding an individual, as well as how that data may be stored and what it may or may not be used for. Therefore, privacy laws, like security workers, exist to keep people safe.

Using Video in Court

“The disconcerting ease with which photographs can be taken, the inevitable even when inadvertent authority of the camera’s results, suggest a very tenuous relation to knowing.”Susan Sontag, ‘On Photography’ (1971).

When it comes to the courtroom, video footage always takes precedence over witness statements or testimony. This means that any spoken or written account of events during a criminal trial must corroborate, not contradict, the video being shown.

Imagine if a person’s account of events was contradicted by direct video evidence. That person would appear to be foolish at best – and an outright liar at worst. In all but the most unarguable of cases, this would likely scupper any chance of a conviction.

It is advisable to never prepare a statement or give evidence without first reviewing all footage relevant to the event. Memories can be very unreliable and it is best to rely on hard evidence (such as video), whenever it is available.

The person responsible for the footage will likely be asked to prepare a statement to go alongside it, as well as to be rigorously questioned regarding its contents.

It is important that the statement include environmental factors not evidenced by the footage, as well as any supplementary details that the footage may have omitted.

It is advisable also not to shy away from the reality of the events that are depicted on camera. For example, if the video contains the camera operator using foul or abusive language, the court will see this. The accompanying statement may provide a brief explanation for this (e.g., “it was said in the heat of the moment” or “the person was presenting a serious threat”, etc), as well as an apology. Whatever is detailed in the footage will be the source of questions, so proper preparedness is of paramount importance in such cases.

Body-Worn Cameras & The Law

“The two big advantages [of BWCs]; one is that it produces the best possible evidence – compelling evidence – for a criminal prosecution, and, as importantly, it holds us [the police] to account. It’s a way of showing how well the officers do the job. On the other hand, if we don’t do our job properly, it will capture that evidence too”Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, former Metropolitan Police Commissioner.

There are no specific laws governing the use of body-camera technology, although use of any camera in a public space does fall under the purview of a number of privacy laws (specifically the Data Protection Act 2018).

A code of practice specific to BWCs was created by the Surveillance Camera Commissioner and the Information Commissioner. It is somewhat similar to the Surveillance Camera Code of Practice, published by the government in 2013 and both should be consulted before any use of BWCs in the context of professional security.

For general reference, remember that it is legal for anyone to take photographs or record video in public places. The only time this becomes illegal is when said photographs or footage are being used for illegal purposes (e.g., taking pictures of a building in order to plan a robbery or commit a terrorist act).

Privacy laws are breached when a person’s photograph is taken without their consent, especially in a place where they should reasonably be able to expect privacy (for example, on their own property).

To cite another example, if a private citizen films their local town centre on market day, this would not be considered to be violating the privacy of the vendors or people walking past the camera, as they are not the subject of the footage. This is a completely legal activity.

If, however, the person was to film or photograph an individual (or individuals) specifically and without consent, that person would be in violation of the individual in question’s privacy – and the individual in the footage has every legal right to request that the images be destroyed or deleted.

In the case of people who film and photograph others without consent for the purposes of sexual harassment, intimidation or gratification, this can carry a sentence of up to 2 years, as well as the possibility of the perpetrator being registered as a sex offender.

Police cannot seize a camera unless the person using that camera is suspected of committing a crime with it (such as the examples listed above) and, unless a venue or event has specific rules about the use of cameras and recording equipment. The same holds true for security operatives.

Police have no legal power to stop private citizens from filming them at work, or to prevent members of the public from filming potential crimes as they occur.

Security operatives, being essentially private citizens, could potentially ask that footage specifically detailing them be deleted. The only grounds for refusing this request would be if the patron doing the filming had caught the security worker in an illegal act (such as using excessive force), in which case, the footage would probably be considered as evidence of a crime and forcing its deletion would also be a crime, as no person has the right to do this, for fairly obvious reasons.

In general, BWCs do not conflict with general data policy regulation (GDPR). Provided that footage is only ever used for the reasons for which it has been collected, complies with data protection guidelines, can be accessed only by a limited number of qualified people, is stored safely and securely and is deleted within a reasonable period of time (approximately defined as 30 – 31 days).

Former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe was an early advocate of police using BWCs. As he pointed out, the police are often the only people that aren’t recording, and as such, it’s important to get an official police perspective for plurality’s sake.

A British-American study, conducted in 2013, validated Hogan-Howe’s faith, demonstrating that instances of police using force dropped by 87% when police were equipped with BWCs.

From these results, it is possible to suggest that security operatives could potentially see a similar drop in incidents requiring force if BWCs were rolled out in greater numbers across the industry. As stated in the introduction, this technology could have a markedly positive effect regarding the reduction of instances of violence against security workers.

Lastly, the Home Office has published a list of technical guidelines for anybody using a BWC. The latest edition of this document (created in 2018) places heavy emphasis upon the integrity of evidence and the secure storage of data. It is strongly advised that every security worker who uses a BWC at work familiarise themselves with this document.

Body-Worn Cameras & Society

“With cameras everywhere, even on our personal computers and phones, we may as well be actors, performers and stars in some filmic archive of the microscopically commonplace.”Grant Morrison, ‘Supergods: Our World in the Age of the Superhero’ (2011).

The widespread use of body cameras is just one thread in the wider tapestry of the increased surveillance and scrutiny that is being placed on all of our lives. For all the benefits of BWCs, there are any number of foreseeable drawbacks.

For example, it is theoretically possible for a police officer or security worker to behave inappropriately (for example, by goading or provoking a member of the public to an angry outburst), but then only switch the camera on once that person responds to the provocation. The argument goes that cameras record not only events, but perspectives and viewpoints as well.

It will not have escaped anybody’s attention that different news outlets cover the same news stories in accordance with their specific political bias. Coverage of an event by one news source will likely not match coverage from all news sources, for example. To some degree, the same is true for body-cam footage. The events are witnessed from the point-of-view of the authority figure, thus enhancing the viewer’s pre-existing tendency to side with them.

Additionally, when BWC footage is not properly catalogued, stored and accounted for (as physical evidence is), it can render these benefits effectively moot.

A recent nationwide freedom of information (FOI) campaign found that, in many areas, police did not know how many complaints were being made against them and had no official figures to that effect. Among the reasons for this was the relative inaccessibility of the data. This has prompted some critics to suggest that the claims that BWCs limit complaints against police officers (and other professions) are tenuous at best and unreliable at worst.

Despite the many undeniable benefits of portable camera technology, criticisms and issues of privacy remain. In some cases, concerns over privacy raised by the presence of BWCs may be mitigated to some extent by drawing awareness to the pre-existing CCTV presence within these venues. The argument being that patrons are being filmed in the venues anyway, why should they object to the cameras being a little closer?

These privacy-based concerns nevertheless do carry weight in some cases and should not simply be dismissed. There is a noticeable difference between cameras mounted in the venues that are filming a large group of people and cameras that are focused tightly on one specific person – and the law would seem to apply this distinction as well.

Concerns that newer BWCs may contain facial recognition software are also to be taken seriously. As is often the case with technological innovation, this could prove a ‘double-edged sword’. Cameras that automatically scan for previous offenders and/or wanted criminals would be useful and help to keep venues and streets safer but would at the same time seriously infringe on the public’s right to privacy.

BWCs are also expensive, costing a lot of money not only to initially purchase and maintain, but also to store footage. Even entry-level subscription packages or regularly cleared SD cards (the cheapest storage options), can cost a fair amount.

BWCs can do a lot of good for the security industry, as well as many other areas, but they are not perfect – and it would be prudent not to rely too heavily upon them.

Today, Western societies have become so used to being filmed, photographed, catalogued and processed, that, perhaps in a curious mass outbreak of Stockholm syndrome, we have begun to broadcast ourselves, taking ‘selfies’ wherever we go, proudly displaying every life event on social media and filming ourselves every chance we get. We’ve taken on starring roles in our own peculiar life-long psychodramas – and we’re ready to perform for the world, whether it demonstrates an interest or not.

What implications these developments will have for our collective culture, good or bad, remain to be seen.