Police, camera, action! is finally to become a reality with the Home Office go-ahead today for officers in forces across England and Wales to be issued with "helmet cams".
The mini digital cameras, strapped to the helmet headbands of patrolling police officers, are to be used to film rowdy late-night scenes, underage drinkers, controversial stop and search confrontations and domestic violence incidents.
The cameras can store up to 400 hours of footage with soundtrack on their hard drive, with a battery life of eight to 12 hours. The footage can be played back on a four-inch (10cm) screen attached to the officer's belt. Future versions may use a memory card or even live streaming technology to transmit the pictures to a nearby vehicle or communications centre.
The decision to adopt the helmet-cam technology follows small-scale trials in Plymouth by the Devon and Cornwall police, who used the head mounted video system to improve the quality of evidence provided by officers who attended domestic violence incidents.
A wider trial involving 300 trained officers using 50 cameras in as many operational situations as possible followed. It found the helmet cam had significant advantages over hand-held video systems as officers did not need the support of a minder to use the equipment, both hands remained free and their peripheral vision was not hindered when they used the camera.
The police minister, Tony McNulty, said the cameras could significantly improve the quality of evidence provided by police officers and increase the proportion of offenders brought to justice: "I am delighted to be able to announce ?3m for the police service which will enable forces to make this valuable technology available to frontline police officers," he said.
The cash will initially enable each force to buy eight camera units at ?1,700 each. But the police have been warned by the Home Office that they are expensive, and forces should not create the expectation that all officers will be able to have video equipment with them at all times.
Guidance published today on the use of helmet cams warns officers not to use them if a member of the public simply approaches them to ask a question, and it will be regarded as good practice to say if the camera is switched on.
Before the cameras are used in a new area, the Home Office advises police to mount a media campaign with warning posters. In Plymouth they used posters saying "Glass head", "Police, camera, action!", "Handcuffed" and "Video Screen". Officers are to wear a sign and to announce: "I am video recording you."
The guidelines tell officers they can use the cameras in situations where they would normally have made a written record. The cameras should not be used in general patrolling unless it is part of a specific operation, such as public order duties. Recordings not to be used in evidence should be deleted within 31 days.