In April I wrote about how no good thing could possibly come from prison officers wearing body cameras as the Prison Officers’ Association would like. Shortly afterwards I spoke to one officer who had read that post and was surprised to find that he didn’t like the idea either, though for very different reasons which I hadn’t even considered.
To put his comments in context I should probably explain a bit about what this particular officer is like. He doesn’t take any crap. He doesn’t let you get away with anything you shouldn’t when you are out of order. But he doesn’t treat people badly either. He’ll hold his hands up when he’s in the wrong, unlike many others I have come across, and he generally speaks to you with respect because that’s exactly what he expects back. But most importantly, you can have a proper human to human conversation with him without ever losing track of where you stand.
But he said that if he was wearing a body camera he would probably act very differently. He would be so conscious that everything he is doing (or not doing) could be getting watched that he wouldn’t have the same human conversations he has now. He would have to be in full blown officer mode all the time. If he saw someone getting just a little bit tetchy he couldn’t just tell them to get their shit together, he’d have to approach it through official channels with written warnings which do nothing but create paperwork for him and sting the prisoner every single time a report has to be written.
Because he’d act in this way, the way people treat him would also be different. If it all kicked off he’d no longer be that one who does the job but is a person first and an officer second. He’d be the one who jumps on you for anything when you’re simply having a bad day. He’d be in the line of fire.
Wearing body cams would destroy any chance of officers building up a respectful rapport with the prisoners they have to work with and emphasise division instead of cohesion. Long term they wouldn’t decrease risk at all. Sure, it would probably mean that officers are attacked less often than they are right now. But it would also mean that when a prisoner does feel pushed to his limit and decides to attack, it will probably be far more violent and serious. This might sound contradictory but it is exactly what I saw when moving from the young offender system to the the high security adult system. Young offenders kick off day in day out, but it is usually handbags at dawn. In high security adult prisons it very rarely kicks off, but when it does, you know about it. I can’t remember the last time a bell went off for a fight here where at least one person didn’t have to go to hospital. Increased supervision of any kind, including body cams, decreases the frequency of violence, but it drastically increases the intensity.