Purchasing body-worn cameras: 10 top tips

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Body-worn cameras can reduce the risk of violence and threats to staff by providing a deterrent effect and documentary evidence for pursuing aggressors, but it’s important to carefully consider issues like functionality, data storage and user training during the selection process.

As safety concerns intensify across a range of industries, the demand for innovative and effective protective measures increases. Retail employees, community nurses, traffic enforcement officers and social services workers are facing a disturbing rise in violent and aggressive encounters. The psychological and emotional impact of these incidents is considerable, with a report from the Retail Trust indicating that one in five British retail workers are considering resigning due to fears for their personal safety.

In response, employers are turning to the deployment of body-worn cameras as a promising solution to enhance security and accountability. This technology not only provides a means to document events as they occur but also demonstrates proven effectiveness in reducing violence and deterring aggressive behaviour, thereby fostering a safer and more secure working environment.

Photograph: Reveal Media

The strategic implementation of body-worn cameras is key to addressing these challenges, offering both immediate and sustained benefits. However, it is essential that the operational details, technological features and strategic benefits of integrating body-worn cameras into a company’s operations are thoroughly evaluated. Ensuring that all stakeholders have the necessary information to make well-informed decisions is paramount.

1. Identifying the challenges that can be solved with body-worn cameras

According to the British Retail Consortium’s Retail Crime Survey, a record 475,000 incidents were reported in 2023; the equivalent of 1,300 violent or abusive occurrences every day.

However, body-worn cameras offer a proactive solution to these issues by providing a deterrent effect and capturing valuable evidence when incidents occur. By implementing body cameras, employers can significantly reduce instances of theft, vandalism and aggressive behaviour, creating a safer environment for both the public and staff.

For instance, when we consider a typical scenario of a disputed transaction or a confrontation between a member of the public and a member of staff, body cameras can provide clear evidence of the exchange. This leads to quicker resolutions and less ambiguity. Additionally, the psychological impact of visible surveillance can significantly alter behaviour, reducing the likelihood of confrontations and theft.

2. Who might wear body-worn cameras and why?

Identifying the appropriate personnel for body-worn camera deployment is critical. In the retail sector, security guards, shop floor staff, loss prevention teams and distribution centre workers are ideal candidates. Here, cameras fulfil a dual purpose: they bolster security and safety, while yielding insightful data for training and performance reviews.

By equipping frontline staff and lone workers with body cameras, employers can improve customer service and ensure compliance with company policies, while enhancing overall security and operational efficiency.

The implementation of body-worn cameras is not intended to penalise the wearer or infringe upon the privacy of members of the public; rather, its purpose is to de-escalate tense situations and provide impartial evidence that meets the needs of all involved.

It is a strategy aimed at support and resolution, not conflict and blame.

3. Establishing the important hardware factors for your business

Selecting the right body camera system is crucial. Employers should consider various hardware factors to meet their specific needs. In particular, comfort, durability, battery life and video quality are paramount. Additionally, features like a front-facing screen, live streaming capabilities and two-way audio can enhance functionality.

Key features to consider include:

  • Front-facing screen: this feature significantly helps in de-escalating potential conflicts by making individuals aware that they are being recorded
  • Ease of wear: cameras must be comfortable for all-day use, not restrict movement and be suitable for various body types
  • Ease of use: devices should be intuitive, requiring minimal training, with simple activation and stop mechanisms
  • Battery life: understanding whether the cameras will be used continuously or activated manually during incidents is essential to determine the required battery life so that cameras last an entire shift without the need for recharging.

Photograph: Reveal Media

Key additional enhanced capabilities to consider:

  • Live streaming: live streaming capabilities make real-time situational awareness and decision-making possible, allowing support teams to provide immediate support to staff, especially those working alone, when required
  • Two-way audio: this enables real-time communication between the wearer and the control room or management, ensuring they’re never alone and are fully supported during emergencies
  • Pre-record: capturing up to 120 seconds of video before the camera is activated and recording starts ensures that crucial moments leading up to an incident are recorded to give a complete picture of events
  • GPS: real-time location tracking helps aid a quick response to any incident.

Each of these features needs to be carefully evaluated based on the employer’s specific needs and the typical challenges faced by staff.

In retail, for instance, a device that captures high-definition video and audio while being unobtrusive may be preferred. Conversely, for community nurses who frequently work across different and often remote locations, cameras equipped with GPS tracking could be vital. The GPS functionality allows for real-time location monitoring, ensuring that assistance can be promptly directed to the nurse’s location in the event of an emergency. Understanding whether the cameras will be used continuously or activated manually during incidents is crucial in addressing both the safety of employees and the privacy concerns of all parties involved.

4. Establishing the important software and management factors

The software and management aspects of body camera systems are equally important. Integration with existing security systems, data storage options and management capabilities should align with the organisation’s IT infrastructure and security requirements. Whether opting for cloud-based or on-premises solutions, prioritising scalability, data security and ease-of-use to maximise the benefits of body cameras is a must.

Choosing body camera software that simplifies the collection and management of video footage will allow organisations to adopt the new system with ease. It’s important to ensure that various types of media are supported, as well as the option for enabling automatic uploads. These features help with the handling and storing of large amounts of data generated by body cameras without adding any extra processing burden to the employees.

Alasdair Field is chief executive of Reveal Media. Photograph: Reveal Media

5. Learning from others: due diligence

When deciding on which body camera system to choose, it’s important to engage in thorough market research and due diligence, namely:

  • Conducting due diligence: employers should investigate potential body camera suppliers, assessing their quality standards, reliability, customer service and track record in similar settings
  • Speaking to reference customers: connecting with other organisations who have already implemented body cameras can provide valuable insights into the practical benefits and challenges of these systems
  • Requesting case studies and proof points: suppliers often provide case studies that demonstrate how their body cameras have been used effectively in various environments. These can serve as a proof of concept and help anticipate potential outcomes for future implementation.

Gathering this information and using it to make informed decisions ensures that the body camera solution aligns perfectly with the organisation’s specific needs and expectations.

6. Building the business case and ensuring stakeholder engagement

Retailers employing body-worn cameras have reported a significant impact, with up to a 65 per cent de-escalation effect and 45 per cent reduction in violent and aggressive incidents.

For employers, the investment in body cameras is both a financial commitment and strategic decision that affects multiple stakeholders. To build a compelling business case for body cameras, it is crucial to showcase their tangible benefits and return on investment. This includes quantifying potential savings from decreased theft, bolstered security and improved operational efficiency.

UK retailers and some NHS Trusts have noted operational advantages such as reduced administrative workload and more efficient incident management, with body cameras streamlining these aspects. The comprehensive recording functions lead to faster resolution of complaints and incidents, thus conserving valuable time and resources.

Incorporating body cameras in customer-facing roles has also been reported to significantly enhance staff wellbeing. Improvements in workplace safety and fewer distressing public encounters can have a considerable positive impact on mental health, potentially leading to a decrease in stress-related absences and fostering a more positive work environment. Support for this comes from one of the UK’s leading home furnishing retailers, which reported a unanimous feeling of increased safety and confidence among staff equipped with body cameras. Similarly, a survey of NHS Trusts currently using body cameras revealed that all participants felt their wellbeing had improved due to the technology.

7. Data privacy and compliance

The deployment of body-worn cameras requires diligent compliance with legal frameworks to ensure adherence to UK privacy laws and data protection regulations, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Establishing clear policies and procedures for the collection, storage and management of data is essential in protecting the privacy rights of both the public and employees.

Employers must conduct Data Privacy Impact Assessments and uphold strict data management protocols. The BS 8593:2017 Code of Practice provides comprehensive guidance on the responsible use of body-worn cameras, emphasising the need for transparency and the careful management of recorded data.

8. Importance of training and additional considerations

Training staff on the ethical and practical use of body-worn cameras is essential to ensure they feel supported and empowered, rather than monitored. Utilising real-life incidents as training material provides vital learning opportunities, enabling teams to better handle similar situations in the future. Additionally, regular training sessions foster open feedback and allow managers to consistently update and improve safety protocols.

Body cameras are a significant advancement in enhancing worker safety; however, they should be part of a comprehensive strategy that includes other critical safety measures. Integrating them with existing security systems, such as CCTV, access controls and alarm systems, creates a robust safety network. This integration not only helps to deter potential aggressors but also supports the quick resolution of any incidents that may arise.

Moreover, the cultural and psychological impacts of implementing body cameras must be carefully considered. Creating an environment of trust is crucial, where employees understand that body cameras are tools for their protection, not devices for surveillance. Encouraging open dialogue, addressing concerns and involving employees in the process can significantly enhance the effectiveness of body camera technology as part of an inclusive approach to workplace safety.

9. Future-proofing your solution

Anticipating future needs and technological advancements is critical when investing in body cameras. Organisations should select scalable solutions, with fully configurable software, that can adapt to evolving security requirements and emerging technologies. This proactive approach ensures that the investment remains relevant and valuable in the long term, safeguarding against obsolescence.

Key future-proofing aspects to consider:

  • Adaptability: ask your supplier about how body camera technology might evolve. Discuss the importance of selecting systems that can be updated or expanded as new features become available or as your circumstances change
  • Scalability of solutions: will you need to scale up your body camera system as your business grows?
  • Long-term vendor commitment: choosing a supplier that is committed to continual improvement and development of their products while supporting their customers through every update is an important consideration
  • Integration of advanced technologies: the integration of advanced technologies such as facial recognition can significantly enhance the capabilities of body-worn cameras. For example, a trial in Southampton demonstrated how facial recognition technology integrated into body-worn cameras could help identify known offenders in real time, providing an additional layer of security and operational efficiency.

10. Running a successful pilot and moving forward

Before fully implementing body-worn cameras, organisations should conduct a pilot or proof-of-concept trial to test their effectiveness and feasibility. A well-designed pilot programme enables testing in real-world scenarios, gathering feedback and making necessary adjustments before a full-scale deployment.

A successful implementation hinges on careful planning and learning from other sectors that have already adopted the technology. This preparatory stage is crucial for tailoring the system to meet specific operational needs while navigating privacy concerns and ensuring the system is scalable to accommodate future technological advancements.

Regular refinement of the implementation process is vital. Retailers, for instance, can maximise the benefits of body camera technology and ensure its successful integration into their operations by continually updating their strategies based on pilot results and ongoing feedback.

Ultimately, the goal of integrating body-worn cameras is to foster a safer, more accountable and efficient environment. Leveraging modern technology to mitigate risks and enhance wellbeing and confidence has proven substantial across various settings – from retail to healthcare. The successful adoption of body cameras across these diverse sectors not only highlights their benefits but underscores their necessity in today’s rapidly evolving market landscape.

Alasdair Field is chief executive of Reveal Media.

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