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Working group: Body cams for Finnish police from 2018

Finnish police are said to be considering the permanent use of body cameras, with the practice expected to be taken into widespread use by the end of 2018.

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Image: Berislav Jurišić / Yle

A National Police Board working group looking into the question said that wearable cameras for police officers will offer undeniable benefits. Officers in the Helsinki police department are currently conducting pilots with 30 of the uniform-mounted video recorders.

Chair of the working group, Chief Inspector Sami Hätönen said that the body cameras will improve the quality and productivity of police work.

"Cameras have already been proven to improve police safety on the job, reduce incidents of violent resistance to police and increase officers’ legal protection. Cameras also have a preventive impact," Hätönen added.

He pointed out however that officials would have to lay down as specific guidelines as possible to ensure that the legality and consistency of camera use.

The working group chair noted that the cameras are just one new tool that will be governed by the same authority and limitations as other recording devices.

"A police officer always makes the decision to begin and end a recording. So the cameras will not record indiscriminately. Rather they are activated only when there is legal justification," he noted.

Raw footage to be stored for four days

According to the working group, current legislation already allows for the use of body-mounted cameras. The team has however, identified areas requiring further development in terms of the relevant regulations governing recording, processing and storing video.

The group pointed out that during a single call, a police camera might record a long video file, only part of which may be stored and linked to documentation such as a preliminary investigation. Other unnecessary parts will be deleted.

The working group will have to define an appropriate storage time for unused video material.

Hätönen said that preliminary working group recommendations put the suggested storage time at 96 hours, taking arrest and detention times into consideration.

"Then a person who is the subject of police action would have the possibility to request police camera material. This would be an appropriate length of time from the perspective of the police as well as the subject of their actions," Hätönen explained.

Material recorded by individual police officers will not be shared within the police force. Only officers with the right to handle preliminary investigation material relating to a specific case will have access to those recordings.

Hätönen said that training and supervisory action will ensure that no individual police officer will be able to delete camera material, for example video incriminating officers in the use of excessive force.

Need to protect individual privacy

The working group chair said that it is very important to protect the privacy of individuals recorded on police body cameras. He pointed out that officers responding to a domestic call, for example, might record sensitive material such as nudity.

"The data must be handled so as to prevent leaking sensitive or illegal material to the outside," he stressed.

Hätönen said that the police board had not yet made a decision about which technology provider it would use.

Current technology could make it possible to connect a police radio, smartphone and body camera into one device, allowing officers to carry fewer tools. If officials decide to connect the wearable camera to police radios, then every field officer could have a camera at his or her disposal.

The precise timetable for taking the uniform camera into use depends on the schedule for competitive bidding for the device; however it would take place at the end of 2018 at the earliest.

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