Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) have helped forces refocus their efforts and, by supporting bespoke investments, developed new approaches to some crimes and the way the police now routinely respond.
In Merseyside, a total of 800 state-of-the-art body worn cameras are now being used by officers across the region after I secured funding from the Home Office. The cameras are deployed between shifts and are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
These high definition cameras act as an extra pair of eyes and ears for officers dealing with challenging situations, including alcohol-fuelled disorder, abuse and assaults. A decision was made by chief officers here in Merseyside that these body worn cameras must always be used when officers attend an incident of domestic abuse or carry out a stop and search (unless an intimate or strip search).
Using these cameras speeds up justice, puts offenders behind bars more quickly and protects potential victims. It also demonstrates the dangerous and difficult job officers do day in, day out, serving the public and has helped to reduce the number of spurious complaints.
Key improvements that have already been identified by the force are:
- Safety ability to calm the behaviour of the offender.
- Neutralising complaints against police.
- Better standards of evidence.
- An accurate record of street encounters.
- Cost savings in terms of denying civil litigation.
- Efficiency savings in promoting early guilty pleas, in turn reducing court warnings.
All officers using body worn video (BWV) equipment have received extensive training in how and when to use it. Officers wear the cameras overtly on their body armour and must point out to people that they are being filmed.
The footage is impossible to edit by the wearer and it also downloads immediately to a secure and restricted network for evidential purposes. In doing so, the individual camera’s memory is cleared and the camera can be used again.
Footage taken from BWVs of stop and searches are also dip sampled by the Merseyside Independent Advisory Group, who monitor community relations with the police, and this ensures stop and search is being used in a reasonable and proportionate way.
Since the introduction of BWV evidence, the CPS has seen a six per cent rise in guilty pleas, equating in real terms to 2,500 per month. There are no other real changes in business practice to account for this. Merseyside has a high domestic violence conviction rate of 82.4 per cent, which is eight per cent higher than the national average. Members of the judiciary in the region have also been complementary about the footage recorded at scenes.
In addition to the body worn cameras, the force also now has 70 ID-card style video cameras which are being used in the fight against hate crime. The first of these were bought with funding from the Ministry of Justice which I was able to secure. I made tackling hate crime a priority. This focused the force’s attention on providing help for identified victims of hate crime. This initiative came from an officer in the Knowsley SIGMA team, a unit dedicated to tackling hate crime.
These cameras are now distributed by the Force’s SIGMA teams to workers in vulnerable environments, such as late night off-licences, takeaways and restaurants who have been subjected to hate. These cameras help to prevent hate crime and antisocial behaviour, enabling small shopkeepers to stay in business while also increasing detection and prosecution rates. They have already helped secured more than 20 prosecutions and are seen as an excellent deterrent and prevention tool.
Like other PCCs, I have pushed hard to engineer a closer partnership with the mental health trusts on Merseyside. Consequently, in 2014, Merseyside Police and Mersey Care NHS Trust launched a pilot triage car service, which sees an officer work with a psychiatric nurse to provide a mobile service offering an on-the-spot assessment and advice for those in mental ill health or crisis.
Between April 2015 and March 2016, the triage car attended and helped 554 individuals across Liverpool and Sefton. This year already between April and August they have helped 246 individuals an increase of 52 per cent on the same period last year.
This service has helped to drastically reduce the number of detentions under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act (by February 2015, they had already reduced detentions by more than 30 per cent in Liverpool and Sefton).The use of the triage car has also resulted in considerable savings reducing the time and expense of officers attending.
Such was the success of this scheme with MerseyCare that Cheshire & Wirral Mental Health Partnership Trust (Wirral) and the 5 Boroughs Mental Health Partnership Trust (Knowsley & St Helens) are now working with the force to provide triage cars. Similar results are now being seen across all areas with, on average, a reduction of the number of individuals being detained under section 136 decreasing by approximately 45-50 per cent across all five Local Authority areas.
Jane Kennedy, Police and Crime Commissioner for Merseyside