Concerns over Amsterdam police's test with bodycams

A computer generated rendering of a body camera (Photo: Throwawaysixtynine/Wikimedia Commons)A computer generated rendering of a body camera (Photo: Throwawaysixtynine/Wikimedia Commons)

From today Amsterdam police officers will be equipped with bodycams in a test run that will last two years. Every police officer in the so-called base teams will be allowed to wear a bodycam during his or her shift. The intention is to see if bodycams reduce the number of violent incidents, but many are concerned about the privacy implications, RTL Nieuws reports.

Previous bodycam studies showed that people who know they are being recorded, are less likely to use violence. This test in the Amsterdam police is intended to see whether this really is the case.

The police officer decides for himself when to turn on the camera. When a police officer turns on his bodycam, the officer must inform bystanders that he is doing so. A red light on the camera also makes clear that it is turned on. The footage will be carefully stored after each shift. "In general situations, the footage will not be used to show to the public", the police said in a statement. But if a crime is recorded by a bodycam, the footage will be used as evidence. The police can also use the footage in internal investigations.

The fact that the footage can be used against police officers themselves, is a point of concern for the Police's Central Works Council. Council member Rob den Besten is worried that the bodycams will be turned into a "personnel tracking system", he said to the Provinciale Zeeuwse Courant.

​Civil rights activist Rejo Zenger points out that there are no national guidelines or policies on using a bodycam. "The police are now deploying them structurally, and that needs well thought out policy", he said to NOS. "But such policy is still absent." He is also doubtful about whether the Amsterdam test will lead to useful new insights. 

"When you implement something, you must be sure that it contributes to safety and that employees can not be reprimanded on their work", a spokesperson for union FNV Spoor said to RTL Nieuws. Rail company NS experimented with the use of bodycams for conductors last year. 

According to Amsterdam police official Jan Pronker, the police looked at the privacy issue very carefully. There is no reason for concern, he said to AT5. "It's a closed system. Recordings are stored via our internal systems on a central system. No one can access it unless the Prosecutor finds it necessary for a criminal case", Pronker said to the Amsterdam broadcaster. 


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