Police want all officers attending domestic violence incidents in South Yorkshire to be equipped with bodycams in an attempt to improve prosecution rates but accept financial constraints mean the idea will have to remain an “ambition” for the immediate future.
The county’s armed officers are to be issued with video cameras to record their activity within the next few weeks, but cash for that investment has come from funding for the firearms team and that equipment will be specially designed to ensure the view from the lens is not blocked if an officer raises a weapon in action.
Chief Constable Stephen Watson said it was hoped that recording equipment could later be used for other officers, with those attending domestic abuse being regarded as a priority.
That is because the footage recorded could be used in evidence and could be powerful enough to allow officers to proceed with a prosecution even in circumstances where the alleged victim felt unable to proceed with their complaint.
Mr Watson told South Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Dr Alan Billings: “Firearms are first. The hope is that we can role it out behind that.
“Some of the money for body worn kit for firearms officers comes from a pot we can draw upon.
“It is absolutely an ambition that all cases of domestic abuse we should be wearing video and it is also an aspiration for stop and search. It de-escalates situations and people behave differently,” he said.
“There is something very powerful in officers attending domestic abuse incidents being able to capture it on video.”
Experiences in other force areas had been that evidence from body worn cameras had been enough to take perpetrators to court, he said.
Police are working to increase the numbers of domestic abuse victims who will support officers and lawyers who try to build cases for prosecution, because 53 per cent of those involved in incidents will not support the authorities in taking their cases to a conclusion in court.
Reports of domestic abuse were “at an all time high” said Mr Watson, “It has never been higher and that should give confidence to the public that if they do report it, it will be taken seriously.”
One answer to greater success was speed. “A timely response is critical,” he said, “Early access to victim support services, fast tracking into domestic abuse courts.
“The process needs to be done swiftly, being quick is critically important,” he said.
Victims in domestic abuse cases are predominantly women and following an incident they may fear the family’s bread-winner going to prison and potentially leaving their children homeless.
“We are in a good position to help people. These are not always the consequence of doing the right thing,” he said.
“There is a systematic support structure which means that if you do the right thing for yourself and your family you will not be left high and dry,” he said.