Abuse leads to Environment Agency body camera trial
Environment Agency (EA) enforcement officers in the North East havge started wearing body cameras as part of a six-month trial scheme – the first of its kind within the organisation.
Aggressive behaviour towards EA enforcement officers is a particular issue in the UK and, since 2001, the EA has successfully prosecuted 59 cases of obstruction, hostility or threatening behaviour towards staff, 22 of which were in the North-East.
Depending on the success of the scheme, the body cameras could be rolled our to other EA teams across the country. The cameras, which are now the norm among enforcement agencies, could be used in a variety of ways, including during visits to poorly performing sites, illegal waste sites, during fisheries and navigation patrols and even during incident response.
The pilot scheme has been in place since April, with waste enforcement and fisheries officers activating the cameras when they encounter a hostile situation or site.
EA employee Paul Whitehill, an ex-police officer, suggested the pilot scheme after he and a colleague had been threatened during a visit to an illegal waste site on a routine visit. Whitehill said: “I worked with body cameras in the police and saw how effective they can be so suggested we run a trial.”
Safety must come first
Commenting on the pilot scheme, Rachael Caldwell from the EA’s Waste and Enforcement Department, said: “The safety of our staff is paramount. They are well trained in dealing with hostile situations and we take any threat against them very seriously. But our preference is to prevent hostility in the first place.
“Officers will only switch the cameras on if and when they enter a hostile situation. That could be a site where they have experienced aggressive behaviour in the past, or an unknown quantity where hostility may be anticipated, such as on a remote river bank.”
The worth of the new cameras appear to be evident, with studies showing that people are less likely to contest charges against them if there is video evidence of their crime, a benefit that could speed up the justice process and reduce legal costs.
Officers taking part in the scheme must follow the scheme’s guidelines, ensuring that they only turn on the cameras when encountering a hostile situation and informing people when they are being filmed. Footage will be deleted after month unless it is needed for evidence.
The EA’s scheme is not the only example of a waste management company using portable surveillance equipment to reduce acts of aggression against its staff.
Back in June, the waste management company LondonWaste, owned by the North London Waste Authority (NLWA), kitted out 30 employees with small cameras to document abuse and act as a deterrent to aggressive members of the public.
Furthermore, in March, waste services firm Amey announced two new pilot schemes to increase employee safety, including equipping waste teams with body cameras, after the company revealed that instances of physical and verbal abuse levelled at Amey staff at its household waste recycling centre (HWRC) in Northamptonshire had increased by 26 per cent over the course of the year leading up to March 2017.
Finally, abuse is not the only thing that waste operatives have to be wary of, with Biffa last year launching a ‘Driving Recklessly on Pavements’ campaign, highlighting the issue of impatient motorists mounting the pavement to get around waste vehicles, putting staff and pedestrians at risk.