Policemen to wear body cameras – Good Idea. What about Interrogations, Investigations and Interviews?

2nd Home Affairs Minister S Iswaran announced in Parliament last week that uniformed policemen will wear body cameras from the middle of this year,


I think this is an excellent idea. I had previously wondered why we weren't following certain police forces elsewhere, which have cameras mounted on the police vehicles dashboards to record activities whilst patrolling or stopping cars and persons. This measure goes 1 better, instead of just in a car which can only record from 1 angle (the front) and on a road, a body camera can capture and record activity anywhere. I'm sure we have a law that forbids people from recording or sharing their recordings of policemen in the execution of their duty. Or the police can seize such recordings on the pretext it interferes or compromises their investigations. So to resolve this in an ever increasing digital world, a video recording by a policemen will help, provided protocols are in place to prevent their tampering, if and when it becomes necessary to view it. 

An example on where and how body cameras will be displayed on front-line uniformed officers. 

Minister Iswaran mentioned that such cameras has benefitted police forces in the UK and Canada. He added, 'Such cameras and their recordings have been useful in deterring crime, calming rowdy members of the public and providing valuable investigative leads.' He also reflected, 'that leveraging on technology is an "important element" in the fight against crime. Between May 2012 and January this year, footage from police cameras installed in HDB blocks and multi-storey carparks have helped to solve 48 crimes, and generated investigative leads for 195 other cases. So far 2000 such cameras have been installed in HDB blocks and carparks with another 1000 planned for this year. By 2016 all 10,000 HDB blocks and carparks will have cameras installed, a promise made by Commissioner of Police Ng Joo Hee, in a Sunday Times interview last year. 

2nd Home Affairs Minister and Minister in the PM's Office, S Iswaran addressing Parliament.

So there can be no doubt about the value of such cameras and recordings, which brings me back to a post I made last year about having cameras in police interrogation rooms. If the Ministry and Police feel that equipping officers on the ground and affixing cameras in HDB blocks is a useful tool, surely it must follow that having cameras in police interview and interrogations rooms will have similar effects. And it won't cost anywhere as much given that only 6-7 police land divisions need equipping. As mentioned in that post, 1 problem that routinely surfaces in criminal trials is that accused persons allege that their statements or confessions were coerced or made under threat. Some even have alleged police brutality like the SMRT bus strike accused and most recently, some of those arrested for the Little India riot. 

The newly renamed 'State Courts' will clearly benefit if all police dealings with accused persons of an investigative nature, are recorded and available for verification at trials.

To resolve this, a 'Newton Hearing' or 'trial within a trial' must be held, before the judge rules whether such statements or confessions were made voluntarily and thus admissible as evidence. A video recording will once and for all eliminate any such doubts whether these allegations are true and provide a useful tool for the judge to determine the validity of the statements. In the UK, any recording of statements has to be recorded and the accused informed of this. It serves as a useful reminder to officers to follow procedures and the Law to the letter. It provides the best check against possible police brutality and it will confirm or deny any allegations of the same.

So there can be no compelling reasons not to have them if the Police is going to/able equip the thousands of ground officers with cameras and have them in 10,000 HDB blocks. It will be open and transparent and do much to enhance the reputation of the Police as being professional and fair. And it'll help in the administration of justice and make the Court's work easier. 

The usefulness of cameras was again underlined last Saturday when a 65 year old man allegedly smuggling drugs dashed through the Woodlands Checkpoint ignoring calls by immigration and police officers for him to stop. The video left no room for ambiguity of his actions

So do the right thing please and ensure that police interview and interrogation rooms are equipped with video cameras. Failure to do so, inevitably will raise questions that the police have something to hide or are more self-serving than public or justice serving.

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