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March 24, 2022


State of Physical Access Trend Report 2024

The pros and cons of body-worn cameras: Do they help or hinder de-escalation strategies?

Body-worn cameras have grown in popularity significantly with law enforcement and private security officers in recent years, as major developments in surveillance technology has provided a greater number of options. In an exclusive article for IFSEC Global, Working the Doors assesses how the use of body-worn cameras (BWCs) has grown, their pros and cons, and whether or not their use aids security workers in the de-escalation of potentially violent situations, or actually exacerbates things.

Body-worn cameras: How they can help

Body-worn cameras are a rapidly growing market. According to Market Research Future, BWCs constituted a $444 million global market in 2020, with estimates projecting a rise to around $1.5bn by 2025. It seems reasonable to assume, based on these projections, that the world will be seeing more BWCs in the immediate future.

In an interview with IFSEC Global, Reveal Media CEO Alasdair Field stated that he expected to see an increase in sectors adopting the technology, including healthcare and retail. He also delineated the key difference between BWC usage by police and other professions. For field, police use is centred around obtaining better evidence, while other sectors (presumably including security), primarily use BWCs to protect their workers from harm.


Field also added that BWCs “have a significant de-escalation outcome”.

This reasoning appears to be sound. After all, a lot of instances of ‘he said/she said’ can be solved by video evidence. Additionally, when a person knows they are being filmed, they are going to be less likely to perpetrate acts of violence or abuse for fear of legal retribution if nothing else.

BWCs are already being considered for mental health wards and other psychiatric treatment, partially as a way of keeping the people who work in these areas safe from harm.

British police, as well as many UK-based security firms, are generally in favour of BWCs – and it’s not hard to see why. The technology cuts down on customer complaints, corroborates employee accounts of how an incident took place, provides an added incentive for employees to behave professionally and can offer far more compelling evidence than a simple eyewitness testimony.

There are downsides, however. For one, BWCs are still fairly expensive – perhaps beyond the financial reach of smaller security firms.

In one (admittedly hypothetical) example, a corrupt security operative may be inclined to verbally or physically goad a patron into becoming abusive or violent while the camera is switched off, then activate it in order to record their reaction.

Furthermore, although a specific code of practice for BWCs has been published by the Surveillance Camera Commissioner (which also links to the government’s 2013 Surveillance Camera Code of Practice) there aren’t as many firm rules governing the use of BWCs as perhaps there should be.

We would therefore strongly recommend that any security company planning to use BWCs familiarise themselves and their operatives with both codes of practice before creating a company specific one designed to avoid these aforementioned downsides. For reference, the police’s official BWC guidance may be found HERE.

BWCs can be of great benefit to the security industry as a whole. However, they must not be looked at as a ‘cure-all’, or as being in any way infallible. As ever with security, human vigilance remains the key component.

Body-worn cameras and de-escalation

BWCs can be very useful in areas such as policing and security, but how effective are they as part of the de-escalation process?

One argument against the widespread deployment of BWCs goes that violent crime, which of course includes instances of violence against security workers, which continue to rise. While this is almost certainly linked to the government’s long-term policy of slashing police budgets, it also suggests that the proliferation of BWCs is not having too significant an effect upon incidents of violent crime.

Most widely used de-escalation strategies are older than BWC technology and so stop short of incorporating it. However, we wonder if it might be worth a security operative engaging with an angry patron by explaining that they are wearing a camera and that they will be forced by policy to activate it if the patron does not comply with instructions. It seems likely that most people that have yet to escalate to the point of violence, will heed this warning and leave of their own accord.

Of course, the main role BWCs play in the de-escalation process is that of a deterrent. Theoretically, people knowing that they are on camera (or that they potentially could be), should have the effect of encouraging them to back down and begin complying with instructions.

In some cases, BWCs may act as encouragement for certain patrons to behave aggressively. However, the type of person who would see being filmed as an invitation to behave in such a manner will likely need little/no encouragement to do so regardless of the circumstances.

Overall, more research is needed on this topic. It is possible that, some day in the not-too-distant future, a new generation of security operatives will be trained to employ BWCs as part of some updated de-escalation strategy.

What do security workers think of body-worn cameras?

For our recent study of violence against security workers (the largest ever completed), we interviewed 1224 of the 378,543 SIA-licensed security workers currently employed in the UK. Of these respondents, 29 mentioned BWCs as having a positive effect on their work, while 13 stated that their presence had a minimal or negative effect.

The respondents who felt that BWC usage wasn’t especially helpful made comments such as:

  • “It [the presence of BWCs] doesn’t stop violence from customers wanting to fight”
  • “Customers (especially under the influence) are not bothered about being seen to act the way they are”
  • “They [the venues] come up with stunts like lollipops for punters or body cams, it just means they’ve got something to throw at you – or target their aggression at”
  • One commenter told us that their BWC incites violence “more than it deters it”.

Other respondents, however, were more positive toward BWCs, praising them as a great deterrent. We received comments like:

  • “As security manager, I ensured that at least one member of [the] door [staff] is always equipped with a body cam. I deliberately increased the visibility of CCTV installations around the venue. This had the definite effect of decreasing the frequency of incidental violence, especially from members of the public [that have been] knocked back on the door”
  • Another respondent told us that “body cameras sometimes deter troublemakers from initiating trouble to begin with”
  • “People see them [and] most of the time they leave”

Interestingly, one respondent, who works in retail security, told us that they radio police if any situation gets out of hand. The threat of a police call would certainly be sufficient to ward off a lot of troublemakers. This would seem to work on the same basic principle as a BWC; namely that if people recognise what it is and what it can mean for them, at least some of them are likely to back down.

The respondent went on to say that “all guards should wear body cameras”.

Based on our study, it seems that Britain’s security workers are generally positive about the introduction of BWCs, but that this is mainly a guarded type of optimism. Some, understandably enough, do not feel that a simple camera is enough to deter a would-be attacker, while others are willing to accept any help in order to complete what can often be a thankless and difficult job.

How is body-worn camera footage used and what are the rules?

There are no laws that specifically govern the use of BWCs, however there are formal codes of conduct. Additionally, BWC footage is subject to a number of privacy laws, as well as the Data Protection Act 2018.

It is legal to take pictures or video in a public space, provided the images are not being used for illegal purposes and/or do not focus specifically on one person or group of people without their express consent.

Consent ceases to be an issue, however, in cases whereby that person is committing a crime or refusing to comply with the requests of a licensed security operative or police officer.

Any person has a legal right to review any footage taken of them in which they are readily identifiable, although in order to do so they must first submit a ‘subject access request’ to the data controller of the company that took the footage.

Any footage taken is usually deleted within 30 days (although this is not a legal requirement, merely a professional standard that is ‘encouraged’ by police).

In a court of law, video footage takes precedence over any verbal or written testimony. Lawyers on both sides of the case will be looking for any discrepancies between the verbal or written accounts of an incident and what is shown on camera, so it is important for security operatives using BWCs to be very aware of their surroundings, as well as details such as what time it is.

A major issue affecting the storage of BWC footage surrounds data encryption. If the footage is not encrypted or held securely, it can be extremely vulnerable to theft or hacking, which is a very serious issue.

Body-worn cameras and Police

The response from police officers to BWCs has generally been positive. Evidence suggests that the presence of BWCs leads to substantial decreases in citizen complaints, as well as instances of officers using excessive force and instances of assault against police officers.

Axis-BodyWorn-20An early advocate for police usage of BWCs was former Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, who stated “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”

However, a study by the Rand Corporation (produced in partnership with the University of Cambridge and police forces in both the UK and the USA) found that police officers were 15% more likely to be assaulted whilst wearing a BWC.

Other studies (often taking the form of randomised trials) have reported a massive reduction in the number of incidents of police brutality (as much as 50% in one US-based study). One American study, this time submitted to the National Academy of Sciences, was perhaps less optimistic, citing the opportunity for human failure (e.g., the officer failing to activate the camera at the proper time, or nonadherence of officers to specific rules) as a potential problem.

The study also stated that “the true effect of BWCs may be masked by the widespread presence of non-police cameras (e.g. civilians’ cell phones). Civilians regularly record encounters with MPD members with their own cameras, and closed caption television (CCTV) is widespread. Perhaps the BWCs do not change behaviour at the margin, simply because there is no more room to have an effect.”

Mass Surveillance: attitudes and opinions

If we are to understand the British public’s attitude towards BWCs being used by security operatives, we must first address the wider discussion around CCTV and mass surveillance in general.

The average British resident is caught on CCTV around 300 times a day, which makes us one of the most watched populations in the world. 96% of these cameras are owned and operated either by private companies or individuals.

This may seem alarming, but it’s worth remembering that security cameras, though invasive, can also be very useful. They can help to combat terrorism, locate missing people, ensure public safety and aid in the arrest and conviction of criminals. They can also act as a powerful deterrent against most forms of crime.

Studies have shown that the presence of CCTV has led to a 52% drop in carpark-based crime, a 7% decrease in crimes committed in public spaces and a 23% decrease in crimes committed on public transport.

The College of Policing’s Crime reduction Toolkit maintains that CCTV prevents an average of 16 crimes out of 100, which rises to 26 for vehicle-related crimes.

Nevertheless, the debate rages on as to whether or not increased surveillance at the expense of personal privacy is a beneficial trade-off. Is it better to have more privacy, but be at greater risk, or to be excessively filmed and photographed all day by private entities in return for increased protection? Is that protection even as effective as its advocates claim?

A 2014 study, conducted by security firm Synectics, in partnership with CCTV User Group (the national organisation for CCTV managers), found that 86% of the British public supported the use of CCTV in public spaces. However, 80% of those asked also stated that they felt that they needed “more information” regarding CCTV and its uses.

An opinion poll on American website Debate.org found opinions to be more divided, with 53% of respondents claiming a violation of privacy rights and 47% taking the opposite view.

A 2013 British-American study found that instances of police brutality had fallen by 87% in cases where BWCs were being used, a finding that would appear to validate advocates’ faith in the technology. However, some local opinion polls have found to favour an increased police presence over more surveillance.

It is important at this juncture to state a key difference between BWCs and CCTV; namely, that while CCTV captures images of people involuntarily, BWCs are usually switched off until required, meaning that a member of the public is unlikely to be filmed outside of an antisocial incident taking place. Of course, when BWCs are activated, they capture much more detail and take their footage from a much closer perspective. This is especially true in cases where facial recognition software and AI are employed, so the privacy issues, though altered somewhat, remain extant.

In conclusion

BWCs represent a potential revolution in the way security companies operate. Unusually, they not only hold the potential to ensure that a greater number of British security operatives are acting in compliance with both industry-standard policies and UK law, but they can also help to deter would-be attackers and thus help to keep those operatives safe.

We caution against the view that BWCs, in particular the evidence gathered by them, is infallible, or that it will somehow lead to a state of complete safety for security operatives on the front lines, or of complete and total professionalism on the part of all operatives – it can’t, and it won’t. It is, however, an important step in the right direction.

The relative lack of BWC-specific legislation is also a cause for concern. It seems that the technology is evolving faster than the laws that govern it. Additionally, although developments such as AI and facial recognition software have the potential to help us all, they also hold the potential to do great harm.

Our discussion with those presently employed by the security industry uncovered a sense of cautious optimism regarding BWCs, as well as the faint notion that they may help a beleaguered and often put-upon workforce to increase their safety and improve their lot. We are inclined to agree here, BWCs have a lot to offer the security industry, and that industry needs all the help it can get right now.

From the point-of-view of society, more cameras are definitely not the answer, but perhaps the deployment of less generalised, more specialised, systems of surveillance (such as more BWC-wearing police patrolling the streets) could help to reduce criminal activity while also preserving people’s fundamental right to privacy. This issue is a complex one, which is difficult to cover in an overview such as this, but we have nonetheless attempted to present the debate to you in a clear and concise manner.

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Dr . Malcolm Cheshire
Dr . Malcolm Cheshire
March 22, 2022 10:48 am

. . . an evaluative comparison between a body worn camera & spectacles ( using Google Glass technology ) would be very useful ! In the latter , there is the ability to pan and tilt + the technology could also be incorporated into spectacles with protective lenses !

Dr . Malcolm Cheshire ,
Consulting Counsel