Victoria to legalise use of body-worn cameras by police

The Victorian police force will be able to capture potential evidence via body-worn cameras without fear of breaking the law.

New legislation is being introduced into Victorian parliament to ensure police officers can legally use body-worn cameras to capture footage in the line of duty, the Victorian government announced on Tuesday.

The Justice Legislation (Body-worn Cameras and Other Matters) Bill 2017, passed by the House on June 23, is the first tranche of legislation that will give police "the powers, resources, and tools" they need to keep communities safe, including body-worn cameras when they are rolled out to frontline police in 2018.

The Victorian government will also introduce an exception to the Surveillance Devices Act 1999 so that the use of footage captured by body-worn cameras does not immediately constitute an offence should a private conversation be inadvertently recorded by police.

"Body-worn cameras will be a critical tool to respond to family violence issues and other crimes in our community," Minister for Police Lisa Neville said in a statement. "This legislation ensures that police have the powers they need, as we prepare to roll this technology out across Victoria."

The cameras will not only capture potential evidence, but will also hold police to account, the state government said. In recent weeks, footage from body-worn cameras have shown Baltimore police officers planting illicit drugs in a car, and in a separate case, a backyard.

Further legislation will be introduced later this year that will support the use of body-worn cameras for recording statements in family violence matters and allow those statements to be tendered in court by victims as evidence.

"The Royal Commission into Family Violence recommended that there be a trial of body-worn cameras by police ... this legislation is the first step in making that a reality," Attorney General Martin Pakula said.

The final design of the cameras and the scope of their use is yet to be decided, but a field trial is expected in the first half of 2018.

It was the murder of 11-year-old Luke Batty by his father in 2014 that exposed the need for better coordination in sharing information within Victoria Police.

That same year, Victoria Police acknowledged in a report [PDF] that it was struggling to meet the demands of the public, and that inadequate investment in technology had "left Victoria Police in the 20th century".

Two years later, the state government pledged to invest AU$227 million to upgrade the Victorian police force, following a recommendation by the Royal Commission into Family Violence.

The state government has since tasked data analytics company SAS Institute Australia with developing software that connects disparate police databases such as Leap and Interpose, so that greater intelligence can be drawn from them.

Once the disparate databases are connected, the police force will be able to use the system to link people, events, vehicles, properties, and activities, as well as ingest "open-source social media" to pair up with police information, and better identify and predict local crime trends and hotspots.

The system is expected to cut the time it takes for Victoria Police's 600-plus crime analysts to connect the dots from hours to minutes.

With AAP

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