Body-worn cameras: An effective or cosmetic policing response to domestic and family violence?

Published date01 November 2023
DOIhttp://doi.org/10.1177/17488958221108478
AuthorNaomi Pfitzner,Sandra Walklate,Jude McCulloch
Date01 November 2023
Subject MatterArticles
https://doi.org/10.1177/17488958221108478
Criminology & Criminal Justice
2023, Vol. 23(5) 812 –828
© The Author(s) 2022
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DOI: 10.1177/17488958221108478
journals.sagepub.com/home/crj
Body-worn cameras: An
effective or cosmetic policing
response to domestic and
family violence?
Naomi Pfitzner
Monash University, Australia
Sandra Walklate
Monash University, Australia; University of Liverpool, UK
Jude McCulloch
Monash University, Australia
Abstract
Drawing together the literature on police body-worn cameras and video-recorded evidence in
domestic and family violence matters, this article explores whether technology can ‘fix’ criminal
justice responses to domestic and family violence. We argue that the use of police body-worn
cameras and digitally recorded audio-visual evidence in domestic and family violence matters is
not a cure-all for deficiencies in criminal justice responses to domestic and family violence. While
the use of such technologies may alleviate some of the deficiencies highlighted in the Australian
state of Victoria’s 2016 Royal Commission into Family Violence, it raises serious concerns
about victim’s agency and privacy. We argue that the introduction of such technologies requires
significant investment in training and education – for police to adapt to their changed role and for
judicial officers, legal practitioners and potential jurors in understanding and interpreting victim
survivor behaviour on film.
Keywords
Body-worn camera, criminal justice, domestic violence, family violence, policing, technology
Corresponding author:
Naomi Pfitzner, Faculty of Arts, Monash University, Clayton Campus, 20 Chancellors Walk, Clayton, VIC
3800, Australia.
Email: Naomi.Pfitzner@monash.edu
1108478CRJ0010.1177/17488958221108478Criminology & Criminal JusticePfitzner et al.
research-article2022
Article
Pfitzner et al. 813
Introduction
Across the globe, increasing attention has been paid to the prevention and reduction of
violence against women. In Australia, this has brought a decade of significant policy
reform and action, including the world’s first national violence prevention framework
(Our Watch, Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS)
and VicHealth, 2015) and the 2016 Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence
(RCFV) (State of Victoria, 2016b). The seven-volume Royal Commission report made
227 recommendations, all of which the government committed to implement, leading to
numerous domestic and family violence1 (DFV) reforms in the Victorian criminal justice
sector. The RCFV noted that:
[a]n effective police response is essential to the victims’ ability to remain safe, receive a fair
outcome, and recover from the violence’ and that ‘improvements must be made in order to
ensure that family violence is regarded as core business, to improve the investigation of
offences, and to ensure that police interact appropriately with victims’. . .
While acknowledging a significant shift in policing DFV in the previous 15 years the
RCFV identified the still ‘inconsistent approaches that can lead to very different experi-
ences for victims, depending on the circumstances of their interaction with police’ (State
of Victoria, 2016a: 1). Recommendation 58 called for Victoria Police to trial and evalu-
ate the use of body-worn cameras (BWCs) to ‘collect statements and other evidence from
family violence incident scenes’ (State of Victoria, 2016a). The RCFV considered that
BWC could potentially reduce victim trauma associated with giving evidence in court;
assist police, prosecutors and the courts by providing higher quality evidence that might
increase guilty pleas; and increase community confidence that offenders are held to
account. The RCFV gave particular prominence to the potential of BWC to reduce the
administrative burden on frontline police. This was considered potentially significant in
relation to expanding police capacity (State of Victoria, 2016a: 106; see also Harris,
2018). Hoping to equip police to deliver improved victim-centred responses to DFV in a
time of escalating demand, the RCFV envisioned that the police use of BWCs in DFV
incidents would improve police efficiency related to statement taking and evidence gath-
ering at DFV incidents.
The RCFV considered it was ‘imperative’ that the trial be rigorously evaluated to
mitigate against unintended consequences, particularly for victims. Such consequences
were stated to include BWC evidence being used against victims given that misidentifi-
cation of the primary aggressor by police was understood to be a significant ongoing
issue in the policing of DFV (State of Victoria, 2016a: 106). As Harris (2020) points out,
despite their increasing use by police there have been few evaluations of BWC interna-
tionally. McCulloch et al. (2020) evaluated the police trial of BWC in line with this rec-
ommendation, but concluded that the limitations of the review timeframe, the relatively
small number of uses of the technology by police and within the court system during the
review timeframe, and absence of victim perspectives, meant that further evaluation
should be undertaken. In addition, the scope of the evaluation was limited solely to the
use of BWC to digitally record audio-visual evidence in chief from victims.

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