Rollout of Garda body cameras to begin over next year

Cameras will be deployed in pilot project in several divisions

The rollout of Garda body cameras in parts of the country is to begin over the next year.

This will be followed by a full rollout to all frontline gardaí over the course of 2023, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee is expected to announce on Monday at the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors’ (Agsi) annual conference.

The introduction of body cameras was recommended by the Commission on the Future of Policing in 2018 and is supported by many gardaí. However, the recommendation also prompted privacy concerns from civil liberties campaigners.

According to sources familiar with the development process within the Garda, the system will involve frontline gardaí wearing a highly visible camera on the chest that can record video and audio.

Gardaí will have the choice whether to turn recording on or not. Under the regulations being considered, gardaí will be likely to have to signal whenever they are about to record, and will have to justify the decision afterwards. This will be similar to the process for the use of force.

Situations where the use of a camera would be justified include public order matters, searches and other potentially confrontational incidents, sources said.

The pilot programme will see gardaí in a select number of divisions being issued with body-worn cameras as part of an evaluation process ahead of the full rollout.

Their use will be governed by the Digital Recordings Bill which is expected to be published by Ms McEntee next month. The Bill will also cover the use of drones, CCTV and automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) by gardaí.

The Government intends to enact the legislation this year ahead of a full rollout of body cameras in 2023.

The Department of Justice is working with Garda management on developing associated codes of practice of the use of the cameras. Garda Headquarters is to begin a consultation process with potential suppliers of the cameras and related equipment in the near future.

Proponents say body cameras have been shown in other countries to increase police and public safety and to reduce the number of complaints against officers.

Gathering evidence

They are also considered a valuable method of gathering evidence, particularly during domestic violence incidents.

The Minister is also expected to welcome a wide-ranging review ordered by Garda Commissioner Drew Harris into training for gardaí who deal with domestic and sexual violence.

Two new training modules, in the areas of sex crime investigation and victim engagement, will be rolled out in the Garda College in Templemore for members of the Divisional Protective Services Units.

Additional training modules in the areas of domestic abuse intervention and investigation, sex offender management and online child exploitation will also be rolled out in the near future.

Agsi represents some 2,500 members of Garda middle management. The conference, which takes place over the next three days in Kerry, is expected to be dominated by issues of pay and rosters.

The association withdrew from negotiations with Garda management last month over the issues of rosters. There is uncertainty over what roster system will replace the emergency Covid-19 roster which has been in place for two years and which saw members move to a 12-hour shift system.

"We understand there will be an emergency motion before conference in relation to this matter and we look forward to receiving the views of our delegates," Agsi general secretary Antoinette Cunningham said.

On the subject of pay, Ms Cunningham said Agsi has invoked the review clause of the “Building Momentum” public service pay agreement on the basis that October’s 1 per cent pay increase does not meet inflation rates or the rising cost of living.

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher

Conor Gallagher is Crime Correspondent of The Irish Times