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Helsinki police testing body-mounted cameras

In a pilot programme, the uniforms of some 30 Helsinki police officers have been equipped with video cameras for the past few months. So far police have used footage taken as evidence in one criminal investigation.

Image: Helsinki poliisi

The Helsinki Police department is the first in the country to take officer body-mounted video cameras into use.

Police Superintendent Jussi Huhtela says that so far the pilot project, which is just a few months old, has been good.

Huhtela says that his department were convinced it would be a good idea to try out the cameras, after hearing about success stories of police departments in other countries doing so, particularly in the United Kingdom.

He says that accounts from law enforcement in the UK that body cameras reduce violent resistance during confrontations.

"In situations where police are required to use force, the footage from the cameras provides good evidence about what really happened," he says.

The cameras, which record video and audio, are attached to police uniform breast pockets and can also be used to record protest demonstrations from beginning to end - "so there won't be any question about what actually occurred," says Huhtela.

Public streaming police videos on Periscope

When asked whether use of body cameras are the police's version of members of the public videoing them and posting the material on YouTube, Huhtela said not exactly.

"But it is an awkward [situation] where anyone can film the police and stream it online via [the mobile app] Periscope and the police are unable to respond. But the main thing is that we follow developments and see how the cameras can be used for public safety," he says.

Huhtela says that the cameras are only used in public areas and that when an officer goes onto private property, the cameras are turned off.

The Helsinki police have issued an interim report about the pilot experiment, but that report is classified.

Huhtela says that the trial has gone well so far and that the department generally has a positive attitude towards use of the devices, adding that so far there have been no complaints from the public about the practice.

Self-deletes after 24 hours

However, the department has received requests that footage taken not be immediately destroyed, he says.

"According to data protection laws, the police are not allowed to save body camera footage. The material is destroyed automatically after 24 hours. So having a police officer forget to delete footage from the camera is not possible," Huhtela says, adding that there is an exception.

Video recordings can only be saved in a case where police need to investigate a suspected crime.

"The only reason videos can be saved is if there is suspicion of a crime being committed on the recording," Huhtela says. "Ninety-nine percent of the footage is mundane, things that happen in the city and the videos are deleted after police shifts have ended."

How long the body camera pilot programme will last is still unclear, Huhtela says.

"We'll see how it goes this spring, summer and into the beginning of autumn and decide after that," he says. 

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