Freelance journalist

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Ron Alalouff is a journalist specialising in the fire and security markets, and a former editor of websites and magazines in the same fields.
March 3, 2021

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Body-worn cameras

The rise of body-worn cameras in security, retail and healthcare

Ron Alalouff examines the growth of body-worn video in sectors such as security, retail and healthcare.

Just a few short years ago, body-worn cameras were being tentatively trialled by a few police forces. Today, almost every UK police force now uses the technology and in some – such as the Metropolitan Police – they have been issued to all frontline officers. So, the real growth is now from other sectors, such as security officers, retail staff and healthcare workers.

Axis-BodyWorn-20To give an indication of the growth of this sector, the body-worn cameras global market was worth almost $444m in 2020, and is expected to reach $1,507m in 2025, according to Market Research Future. While the initial uptake of the technology was mainly by police and other law-enforcement agencies, features such as live streaming and location-based services are set to push demand for it among other types of user. In fact, body-worn video in non-law enforcement applications is set to be one of the top trends in physical security in 2021, according to Omdia.

Body-worn cameras are used to capture audio and video digitally, and typically comprise a camera, microphone and rechargeable battery, with data storage which is either integrated or a separate unit connected to the camera unit. Some products also offer live streaming, time and date stamps and GPS location data.

‘Exponential’ growth of body-worn video

Reveal Media is one of the UK’s major suppliers of body-worn video and supplies customers in over 40 countries. CEO Alasdair Field expects the market to grow “exponentially” as more countries and a wider range of sectors adopt the technology, with retail and healthcare leading the way. He also anticipates deeper integration with records management, computer-aided dispatch and CCTV systems from a widening pool of partners, as well as the use of AI to improve outcomes and efficiency and back-end evidence management.


READ: Omdia’s trends to watch in security for 2021


Addressing the difference between police and non-police use of the technology, he says: “Police use tends to focus on gathering better evidence, while non-police use tends to emphasise the enhanced safety implications for the people wearing the cameras, as they have a significant de-escalation outcome. The integrity and safety of the data need to be at the same high standard, but the cameras need to be smaller for professions that are not focussed on handling security.”

At Motorola Solutions, the team believes the use of body-worn cameras will continue to grow in sectors such as retail, transportation and healthcare, as well as in established markets like public safety. “What is becoming apparent is that body-worn cameras must also enhance processes and current workflows, making life easier for users rather than adding an administrative burden,” explains Ken Fiddes, Director, International Mobile Video Solutions. “Therefore, compatibility and connectivity between any technology already in use within these industries is key to ensuring efficiency.

“While some customers, such as police, will use body-worn cameras for evidence gathering and prosecution, others might use features for assessing best practice and training purposes. VideoManager, the software solution for managing our body-worn cameras and footage, allows organisations to create custom fields, set their own deletion policies, and manage how their estate of cameras is used to suit their own processes and workflows. So, while the VB400 body-worn camera is the same for a police officer and someone working in commercial security, how they use the solution can be very different.”

Fredrik Andersson, Global Product Manager, New Solutions Initiatives at Axis Communications, believes that one of strongest features of its body-worn products is the open architecture, allowing users to integrate them with third-party video or evidence management systems, either on the premises or in the cloud, enabling integration with other video surveillance data. “The markets outside of law enforcement may not be as mature in using body-worn cameras as police are, but in many cases they have an existing video surveillance infrastructure.”

Although video captured by body-worn cameras is essentially no different to that captured by conventional surveillance cameras, Andersson says, users of the former need to establish clear policies on where and when they can be activated. Data and privacy requirements will vary if the cameras are intended for internal use such as training, compared to the presentation of video evidence in court. “For surveillance outside of law enforcement it’s very common for customers to want to extend their existing video surveillance system with the addition of body-worn cameras, creating a comprehensive, overarching security solution.”

Violence and aggression in retail

So apart from police officers, who is using body-worn video in the course of their work? There’s plenty of evidence that the technology is gaining traction among retailers, and there are indications that the reported increase in violence and abuse during the pandemic has spurred the uptake: the British Retail Consortium’s latest crime survey, for example, records an average of 434 violent or abusive incidents a day.

In July last year the Co-op warned of a “crime and violence epidemic” as it announced the deployment of body-worn cameras as part of a three-year, £70m investment in employee safety. The VT-100 cameras from Motorola Solutions are to be used in around 250 stores initially, with employees having the option to activate real-time video and audio, which is remotely monitored by Mitie. The cameras are supported by cloud-hosted VideoManager software, which enables secure and efficient camera allocation, user administration and incident management.

Boots recently announced that it was trialling body-worn cameras at several of its Birmingham stores. The trial is part of a scheme the retailer is leading with West Midlands Police and other partners, and will assess the impact of the technology on staff safety. “Like other retailers, we are concerned about the increasing problem of violence and abuse experienced by hundreds of thousands of retail workers, which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” a company spokesperson said.

Body-worn video in healthcare settings

Non-police use of the technology is also making inroads into healthcare, and is being used both by security and medical staff. At Essex Partnership University NHS Foundation Trust – which provides community health, mental health and learning disability services across Bedfordshire, Essex and Suffolk – clinical staff are using body-worn cameras from WCCTV, supported by the company’s evidence management software, to supplement the fixed CCTV systems in place at most of their sites.

BodywornCameras-Healthcare-21

And, security and nursing staff at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital are using body cameras from Reveal Media to help reduce violence and aggression. “Our aim as a Trust is to reduce violence and aggression,” said the Trust’s Local Security Management Specialist, Trevor Post. “A&E is definitely where our problems are. But when people started to wear [the cameras] senior nurses were coming to me saying that the whole approach towards them is different, and they feel like they are in control, just by wearing the camera.”

Do body worn cameras reduce violence towards staff?

Apart from a general feeling of reassurance, is there any evidence that body-worn video actually reduces violence and aggression towards staff? Two studies published in the journal Mental Health in Family Medicine go some of the way. A 2017 study showed that it was feasible to deploy the technology in mental health settings and that staff and patients considered it beneficial, with a reduction in complaints and serious incidents.

A further study in 2019 into the wearing of cameras by mental health staff in wards ranging from voluntary admissions to enhanced medium secure, showed that their use was associated with a reduction in the overall seriousness of aggression and violence in reported incidents, with a marked decline in the use of tranquilising injections during restraint incidents. The technology was also associated with a significant reduction in the seriousness of incidents on local services admissions wards.

It’s clear that the use of body-worn cameras is becoming widespread, and in many applications is an extension of fixed video surveillance systems, with the add-on of audio recording. And just like fixed systems, the success of body-worn video will depend on clear evidence that it helps deter violence and aggression from members of the public, and provides robust evidence in the event of such behaviour occurring.

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