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Will body cameras offer more protection for An Garda Siochana and the public?

Photo by Bogba for Unsplash

The government is set to discuss new legislation this week that could see the introduction of body cameras for Gardaí.

Body camera footage is often used in countries such as the UK and America when police are called to an incident. We often hear of body cam footage being used as evidence, as somewhat of an extra witness. We often see documentaries or TV shows that show the effectiveness of wearing the cameras not just for the wearer but also for any individual involved in the confrontation. This has been welcomed by An Garda Síochana. The GRA Vice President was full of anticipation for the introduction of the cameras and the positive outcome they would bring

“They enhance member safety and can assist the investigation of crimes which impact on victims including domestic violence “

Brendan O’Connor GRA Vice President

However, a war of words between The Irish Council for Civil Liberties and the Justice Minister ensued after disagreements on the necessity for the devices. The ICCL claims that the cameras are a breach of privacy. However, Gardai Headquarters have said that the cameras will only be activated if there is a dangerous incident developing. In response to the criticism from the minister, the ICCL held a poll to gauge public opinion.

Results of the ICCL poll

The results from the poll shown above revealed an underwhelming 24.2% voted no for the body cams while 41.4% were in favour. This does not affirm their point that the public will be against the devices.

The Garda Siochana Digital Recording Bill 2021 looks like it will be introduced next year and is welcomed by the members on the ground. Speaking to a member who wished to remain anonymous, were more than happy to have the device while on duty.

“I personally welcome bodycams. It would add protection to the public and Gardaí. It would also provide an independent witness to incidents. However, there must be robust procedures to punish those members who try to manipulate or delete the footage.”

Member of an An Garda Síochana

Bodycam footage can often be used to clear up any ambiguity and protect the officer in certain situations where a fatality may have occurred. In August of 2020 body cam footage was released to show an incident where a man was fatally shot by police in Bakersfield, California. The man was shot by police after he attacked members of the public with a knife. When the male charged at the officer fired at the male who died from his injuries. There were initial complaints from the public that the officer had used unnecessary measures to diffuse the situation. The Bakersfield Police Department released the body camera footage in an effort the show what the officer was faced with and to rebuild trust with the community.

Bakersfield Police Department release image of police shooting

One of the main questions on my mind is if Gardai only turn them on these cameras when there is a serious incident developing will they remember or have time to think of it. The failure to do so may pose more questions than answers if Gardai are being accused of something. They may face accusations that they did not activate the camera on purpose. Therefore how much of an asset will they be for day-to-day policing? However, I do agree that in certain incidents they may prove instrumental in giving an accurate account of what actually happened.

Do you think Gardai should have body-cams? If they do what problems do you foresee? Have your say in the comments below

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