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Race Relations Commissioner calls on police to wear body cameras to address unconscious or racial bias in the force

Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon says police have work to do to address an unconscious and racial bias in the force, and he believes body cameras are a good tool to help.

A police body camera. Source: istock.com

"I know policing can be a challenging and complex job and while work is being done around improving processes, I am also concerned at the presence of unconscious racial bias, or racist systems and processes," Foon told 1 NEWS.

"Police have conceded that systemic racism exists in the force. Commissioner Andrew Coster has acknowledged all humans have unconscious bias' and the police are no exception."

Foon acknowledged police's work to address issues of fair treatment, though, and admitted body cameras were "not a panacea".

"But it may be helpful alongside other ongoing work in the area of unconscious bias or racial profiling," Foon added.

Other jurisdictions around the world are already using body cameras, including Australia, the US and the UK.

Meng Foon. Source: Breakfast

"If police were to wear them, they could record instances of behaviour like unconscious bias or racial profiling," Foon said.

"There are three risk areas in policing when it comes to bias of any kind and they include: who is stopped or spoken to, how force is used, and how prosecutions are sought. The use of body cameras could potentially work in all these risk areas."

Foon also said that footage could be used in court to prove, or even disprove, allegations if needed.

"Their use could protect both police and public in this way," he said.

"People have a right to be treated fairly and equitably but police also deserve anything that will make their job safer."

However, when asked if he had concerns body cameras could have the opposite affect and aggravate members of the public who feel like they are being filmed without consent, Foon said it was a consideration.

But he added several studies had instead found a drop in complaints made against police since body cameras were introduced, including anecdotal evidence that the use of body cameras for parking wardens in various cities in New Zealand led to less confrontations.   

In a statement to 1 NEWS, a spokesperson said police continue to monitor the use of body-worn cameras by various agencies and any potential benefits for New Zealand policing.

"But at this time we have no plans for their immediate introduction," the police spokesperson added.

"While the technology itself is readily available, if on-body cameras were to be more closely considered by police at any future stage, among the complexities that would need to be resolved would be the appropriate storage, security and management of any footage captured, which would be significant in volume.

"There are also legal, privacy and other considerations that would need to be worked through."

Foon said if police body cameras were implemented, there should be stringent regulations and guidelines surrounding storage and access of recordings.

"I would be against any technology that could lead to greater instances of racial profiling and would call for storage and access of footage to be monitored by an independent agency to address complications around privacy," he said.

"There need to be measures in place to monitor the 'over-collection', 'retention' and 'reuse' of information as well. Authorities must not keep personal information for longer than required for the reasons it was collected.

"I know there have been recent allegations of improper use of police photography, the collection of youth images and fears that facial recognition technology could be used.

"Privacy matters and any concerns are important," he said.