Shopkeepers in Merseyside are being offered a new tool in the fight against hate crime.
Dozens of tiny video cameras with crystal clear picture and sound quality are being offered to businesses suffering from anti-social behaviour.
The cameras are only the size of an ID card holder but have proved a big success during a recent trial in Knowsley where they have helped police investigate hate crimes and given local shopkeepers greater peace of mind.
In February, Knowsley’s anti-hate crime Sigma unit secured the first detection in the country using footage from the ‘video badges’ when they traced a 16-year-old student from Huyton who had racially abused a local shopkeeper.
The incident was captured by the camera, which was being worn around the shopkeeper’s neck, and within days the offender’s face had been circulated among local police officers. A school liaison officer recognised him and his parents were informed. The boy initially denied having been part of the group that had been in the shop but when he and his mother were shown the footage, he admitted verbally abusing the victim (although he denied using racist language).
Now, thanks to the success of the trial in Knowsley, and to Ministry of Justice funding secured by the Police and Crime Commissioner, Jane Kennedy, Merseyside Police is buying 48 more cameras to be given to shopworkers who work in vulnerable environments such as late night off-licences, takeaways and restaurants.
The cameras are worn by a worker around their neck and, if they feel threatened or intimidated, can be activated by the press of a button. Often the activation of the camera is enough to deter an offence from escalating but if it doesn’t, the incident can be captured in full and used as evidence to support a police investigation.
In Knowledge, Sigma unit officers say the technology is aiding police and local authority efforts to raise awareness about hate crime and encourage greater reporting of it.
Superintendent Kevin Wellens, said: “These video badges of one of an array of measures we are successfully using in Knowsley to crack down on hate crimes. Not only do they help us solve a crime by giving us excellent evidence of the perpetrator’s behaviour, their sheer presence around a person’s neck can deter a would-be offender from doing anything wrong to begin with. They give local businesses who have suffered repeated anti-social behaviour or racially aggravated offences in the past greater peace of mind, and in our experience, fewer incidents occur because word soon spreads among the trouble-makers and they steer clear as they do not want to be caught on camera.
Supt Wellens added: “These cameras are just one tool we use to tackle hate crime in Knowsley and the rest of the force area. Each of our division has anti-hate crime ‘Sigma’ units consisting of officers with special training in dealing with victims in a sensitive and compassionate manner. Our schools officers regularly talk to young people about what hate crime is and how badly it affects people. And we make use of lots of other investigative techniques whenever a hate crime is committed here on Merseyside.
“The cameras are completely overt. They are worn over the top of someone’s clothing and are brightly coloured and when the user slides the record button on, it is clear to everyone that it is now filming. Anyone who persists in their criminal behaviour is simply incriminating themselves and we will have no hesitation in confronting them with the footage when we track them down and arrest them, and in presenting that footage to the courts when we prosecute.”
Merseyside Police and Crime Commissioner, Jane Kennedy, said: “These cameras will help our small shopkeepers stay in business and help the police fight the hate crime that can plague some areas. I don’t want anyone on Merseyside to feel that they have to endure racist abuse because they are shopkeepers or because it is a so-called occupational hazard.
“By working with Merseyside Police’s SIGMA units, the victims of hate crime and the anti-social and violent behaviour that often comes with it, can fight back. The evidence produced is overwhelming and shocking and can be shown to parents who often have no idea how badly their children are behaving.
“The quality of the images is superb and this means when offenders are confronted with it they have little choice but to plead guilty. Many offenders also change their behaviour when they know they are being filmed. If the case goes to court, judges can see quite clearly the abuse and hate being shown to the victim.
“This is a really good idea and I applaud the SIGMA team in Kirkby who developed it. The cameras are already having a big impact and giving confidence to the shopkeepers who serve our community every day. I am very pleased that this bid for funding was a winner.”
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