Is your conscience recording you

Posted: 28 April 2019 in On the Pilgrim's Road, Understanding Others
Tags: ,
Police Body Video.jpg

Smile -here- for the (police) video

“You are being watched”.  Does your behaviour change?  Try asking that when your car approaches the speed cameras on the trunk road.  We know what the norms are.  But we conform when being watched.  Or so the police themselves have found.

A Cambridge University study has found that police body cameras can dramatically reduce the number of complaints against officers.   It showed complaints by members of the public against officers fell by 93% over 12 months compared with the year before.  Almost 2,000 officers across four UK forces and two US police departments were monitored for the project. Dr Barak Ariel, who led the research, said no other policing measure had led to such “radical” changes.

The study aimed to find out if the use of cameras, which are usually clipped to the top half of an officer’s uniform, affected complaints against police made by the public. The experiment involved police from Northern Ireland, three English police forces, and two police departments in California.  It looked at almost 1.5 million hours of footage.

Dr Ariel, at Cambridge University, said: “I cannot think of any [other] single intervention in the history of policing that dramatically changed the way that officers behave, the way that suspects behave, and the way they interact with each other.”  He said the results indicated both police and the public were adjusting their behaviour.  “Once [the public] are aware they are being recorded, once they know that everything they do is caught on tape, they will undoubtedly change their behaviour because they don’t want to get into trouble.

“Individual officers become more accountable, and modify their behaviour accordingly, while the more disingenuous complaints from the public fall by the wayside once footage is likely to reveal them as frivolous.”  Body-worn cameras were first introduced a decade ago and are now becoming a standard piece of police equipment in the UK.

Oddly findings from the research was that even among “control” groups, where officers were sent out without cameras attached, complaints plummeted.  Dr Ariel said that was because good practice and changes in policing culture were becoming embedded across each force as it adapted to the use of cameras – a phenomenon he described as “contagious accountability”.

There is a potentially sinister aspect to all this monitoring.  But that can be commented on another day.

But consider the impact on our ethical and moral behaviour.  Most of us have a reasonable understanding of good behaviour, of treating others well and with respect, of commercial fair dealing, and kindness to others.  But it takes the prospect of it being “played back” to us, to rise to that standard.

The Christian (and more general religious) idea of “sin”, is not the notion of a bad tempered, scolding Guy-in-the-sky-who-wants-us-to-fry.  It is a case of already understanding how God (or the humanist conscience?) means us to be – and knowing how far far we fall short of it.  No, no ……… we don’t want to “see the tapes”, do we.
.                  (Where’s that erase button, then?)


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