Body cameras for police need of the hour: experts
In the wake of "gunfight" incidents involving law enforcement agencies and instances of lethal use of force, equipping police with body-worn cameras can ensure transparency and accountability, according to criminologists and rights activists.
A body camera is a wearable audio, video, or photographic recording system used to record events in which law enforcement officers are involved. They are typically worn on the torso, attached to the officer's uniform.
Law enforcers in the country at present use such cameras for traffic control at some places, but it is not mandatory. Besides, there are many check-posts where CCTV has not been installed, according to a home ministry official.
Every time a "gunfight" or any incident involving law enforcement agencies takes place, police give their own versions, which often contradict reality, said rights activists.
They said the recent killing of Maj (retd) Sinha Mohammad Rashed Khan by police and subsequent narrative of the shooting once again exposed the lack of public trust and confidence in law enforcement.
After the incident at Shamlapur check-post on the night of July 31, police claimed that their officer had to open fire on Sinha as he tried to raise his gun.
However, Rapid Action Battalion, the agency investigating the incident, stated the complete opposite, saying that Sinha had no gun in his hand at that moment.
The probe committee formed by the home ministry to investigate the killing could not confirm whether it was premeditated or an instant action.
It recommended use of body cameras for on-duty police officers and CCTV at check-posts, according to a home ministry source.
An effective source of record, the device can also help connect the dots in the course of an investigation, as it offers real-time information when used.
In many countries, video footage acts as evidence to investigate an incident. The death of George Floyd at Minneapolis in the US that sparked "Black Lives Matter/I Can't Breathe" movement is a glaring example.
Two body-worn camera videos from the day Floyd was killed by police were publicly released by a Minneapolis court, after a coalition of media companies intervened and argued for their unrestrained release.
Prof Omar Faruk of Department of Criminology and Police Science at Mawlana Bhashani Science and Technology University said usage of body cameras will take law-enforcement agencies one-step ahead in modernising the force and ensuring transparency.
"But our police force should keep in mind that these devices are introduced to modernise the service. If they are misused and applied to stage incidents, the consequences will be bad," he said.
He also said transparency will be ensured if all police check-posts are brought under coverage of body cameras and CCTV.
When used, body cameras would record law enforcers' interactions with people, or gather video evidence at crime scenes.
There are many allegations that police take advantage of people in the name of searching at check-posts, like demanding money after putting yaba pills or other drugs in their pockets, and confiscating valuables from their possession but not recording them properly in the seizure list.
Crime analysts say the use of such information technology will also help prevent such irregularities.
At least 196 people have been victims of extrajudicial killings and custodial deaths this year. It was 388 in 2019, according to data compiled by Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK) from media reports.
Prominent rights activist Nur Khan said CCTV, body cameras and other possible technical facilities may help in identifying police involvement with crimes and criminals' actions.
He, however, said the effectiveness of those devices depends on enforcement.
"Say for example, the CCTV footage of Teknaf Police Station before and after the Sinha killing was missing, as police claimed there was a technical glitch," he said.
About incidents like "gunfights", Nur Khan said, "If the state wants, only then will such incidents stop. Body cameras may help to some extent, but it cannot be reduced to zero if the state does not want so. The incidents of 'gunfights' came down significantly in the last few months," he noted.
Inspector General of Police Benazir Ahmed, at the inauguration of tactical belts on December 15, said many officers of Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) have been using body cameras for the last few years, but the initiative was not expanded.
Although the cameras are quite expensive, and it will be impossible to give them to all officers in the next year, the devices will be gradually distributed, he said.
The traffic department and check-posts will be prioritised in this regard, he added.
Asked, Walid Hossain, deputy commissioner (media) of DMP, told The Daily Star that DMP will soon start using body cameras at every check-post, subject to the home ministry's approval.
"It's now being operated at some check-posts and traffic points," he added.
"We have applied to procure 200 high-quality body-worn cameras for officers to use at check-posts," the DMP official said, adding that earlier, GoPros and body-worn cameras were mostly used by the traffic department since December 2014.
Talking to The Daily Star, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said the initiative is still at discussion level.
"We do it in some places on trial basis. But there is no decision yet to implement it across the country," he said.