Under new legislation agreed to in the Legislative Assembly today, the body worn cameras (BWC) sported by ACT police will be put to use far more often than previously.
The Crimes Legislation Amendment Bill 2021 makes changes to five pieces of legislation, one of which will increase the use of ACT police body worn cameras, allowing them to be used in a private space without asking for consent.
Currently, the police are required to seek consent when using their BWC to record an event or to continue recording an event when in a ‘private’ space, such as a private residence or motor vehicle.
The Bill amends the Crimes Surveillance Devices Act 2010 and Listening Devices Act 1992 and requires police to use BWCs during police duties; the use must be overt and be used in dealings with members of the public, subject to specified exemptions.
Police will also be required to advise people the device is recording in all circumstances except where it’s not reasonably practical or safe to do so.
The Bill received tri-partisan support in the ACT Legislative Assembly.
The amendments complement existing legal frameworks and have been modelled on similar provisions in NSW from 2007.
Guidelines developed by the ACT Chief Police Officer will include specific requirements about accessing, storing, retaining and using recordings captured to ensure the right to privacy is protected.
ACT Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury said the amendments support law enforcement officials with their capacity to collect evidence while also strengthening community confidence in police integrity.
“It creates a clear evidence base if somebody commits an offence,” he told ABC Radio Canberra’s Mornings today.
“And also, for the community, if they feel police have done something inappropriate or there’s been an excessive use of power and force, there will also be video evidence of that.”
Mr Rattenbury said the legislation is written to ensure it achieves operational and accountability goals while protecting privacy.
Body worn cameras ‘particularly useful’ in family violence situations
In a submission made during the consultation phase of the Bill, the Australian Federal Police Association (AFPA) said they “strongly support” the current use of BWCs and the reform to expand their use.
AFPA president Alex Caruana said the benefits obtained by officers wearing the cameras far outweigh any negatives.
He said BWCs deliver better transparency and accountability, quicker resolution for complaints and corroborating evidence, increased civility between police and the community, and training opportunities.
AFPA believe the reforms would prove particularly useful in family violence situations, where current requirements often impede the capacity of police to record such incidents.
Under the current legislative regime, permission must be sought from the lawful occupants to record inside private premises.
“All too often, police officers attend incidents, especially family violence incidents, occurring within private premises,” Mr Caruana said.
“This is problematic where the offender and victim are both the lawful occupants, yet one approves while the other doesn’t.”
The reforms would benefit policework in homicide, assault and sexual assault investigations within private premises.
“The use of BWCs inside private premises can capture physical evidence that may be missed by first responding officers while they are focused on the matter at hand,” Mr Caruana said.
Minister for Police Mick Gentleman said BWCs are widely used by police nationally and internationally, and that the footage captured will provide evidence to assist in legal proceedings.
“Although ACT Policing have used body worn cameras in various situations since 2019, it’s important that there is transparency and clarity regarding the use of this tool,” he said.
Canberra Liberals leader Elizabeth Lee said her party supports the Billbut stressed the implementation of the changes in the Bill would be key.
“We need to ensure that these amendments enhance and improve our laws and achieve the outcomes they were intended for,” she said.
“The Canberra Liberals will keep a close eye on the ongoing operation of these laws.”