POLICE Scotland hopes to roll out body worn cameras to all frontline officers by 2023 – but has admitted they have no funding to do it.
The union that represents Scotland’s rank and file officers has warned that restricted finances “makes it almost impossible for the police service to roll out the technology” – with it likely to cost up to £16 million to equip all officers.
Police Scotland has only had 55 per cent of its request for capital funding over the last three years approved by the Scottish Government – the second lowest level of capital investment in UK policing per employee.
The force’s proposals for ministers ahead of the 2021/22 budget, to be delivered later this month by Finance Secretary Kate Forbes, includes £45.2 million of the overall £85.7 million request on data, digital and ICT (DDICT) – which includes body worn cameras.
Police Scotland’s capital budget requirements
Police Scotland says expanding the use of body worn cameras will improve officer safety, reduce and resolve complaints and lead to greater public transparency but has recognised “privacy and third-party concerns” over the use of the technology.
Chief superintendent Mathew Richards, from Police Scotland’s digitally enabled policing project, told Holyrood’s Justice Sub Committee on Policing that making the technology available for all officers would be “money well spent” but admitted it would be “significantly costly”.
He also stressed that Police Scotland hoped the technology would be available for all armed police before the COP26 climate conference takes place in Glasgow to ensure officers don’t “continue to be disadvantaged” from police form other parts of the UK.
Mr Richards told MSPs that rolling out the technology, which is currently available to just over 300 officers, would cost £500,000 for armed policing with the costs to the more than 17,000 frontline officers across the country likely to be around £15.7 million – plus running costs.
He said: “There has been an appetite to proceed with body worn videos since the advent of Police Scotland. It is a critical priority for the chief constable and his management team.
“We do absolutely, as a force, believe that a national option – that’s all police officers and staff in frontline roles, all body worn video is imperative. We think that’s going to take approximately 24 to 27 months to achieve.”
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But Mr Richards suggested the cameras being rolled out to Scotland’s armed officers could be done by the end of this year for the COP26 conference in Glasgow in November.
He said: “We would be able to get an option out for armed policing as soon as possible over the six to nine months – in particular, in advance of the UN climate conference in November when out UK colleagues who are coming up from England and Wales as mutual aid, the armed policing units there will come with body worn video.
“We wouldn’t want Police Scotland officers to continue to be disadvantaged in that regard.”
He added: “If the aim was to equip our armed police officers, which there is 540 officers – that would cost us approximately £500,000 for that option. “Thereafter, there would be revenue costs associated with that.”
But Barry Sillers, the deputy chief executive of strategy and performance for the Scottish Police Authority, warned that “the funding has not at this point been allocated”.
He added: “The actual prioritisation process, discussion between Police Scotland and the authority, to even set the relative priority list of capital asks hasn’t been firmed up yet.
“There’s obviously the Scottish Government budget process which would follow that before I could categorically say there was funding in place for the full rollout.
“There are a number of unknowns at the moment which would require to be confirmed – mostly around the capital allocation before I could give you an actual firm statement to what would be available and when it would be available.”
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Mr Richards admitted a lack of funding remains a key barrier to the project moving ahead – but stressed it would not and could not come at the expense of the number of frontline officers.
He added: “Currently there isn’t funding in place and I believe this will be one of the discussions that takes place with the SPA board on Friday – the chief constable will be attending.
“There is an absolute appetite to do this – in particular for armed policing. The one challenge for us continues to be that funding.”
Calum Steele, general secretary of the Scottish Police Federation union, has told MSPs that the organisation “continues to be wholly supportive of the use” of body worn cameras.
But he warned it is currently unrealistic that the equipment will be rolled out on a vast scale.
He said: “We continue to be mindful of the fact a lack of investment in policing makes it almost impossible for the police service to roll out the technology, at least not without detriment in other areas of the service.
“We also have to point out that without a joined-up justice system, even if the police did have the means, this would be only partially effective without the capabilities to manage the new technologies being found elsewhere in the justice system.”
Mr Steele added: “It is possibly important to point out that the traditional capital outlay vs revenue on-costs is now somewhat dated as a financing model.
“As more and more of the technological asks of policing are less about buying and maintaining (equipment and software), and more about licensing (for use) this creates new funding challenges that seem not to be getting much ‘air time.’
“This new reality means that what once were costs split between two separate sides of the ledger, now increasingly fall on the revenue side. As the SPF need hardly point out, the revenue funding in the police service is already beyond precarious.”