Body-worn video cameras are now common place not only in our police service, but also in our security sector. However, I read recently that this technology is now on trial in two schools in England. Tom Ellis, a criminal justice researcher from Portsmouth University has said every teacher in the two schools will be wearing the cameras for the duration of the three-month trial. Mr Ellis hasn’t been able to name the two schools who are participating in the trial, but as he told BBC Newsbeat:
"The teachers will be wearing the cameras very visibly, so there's no attempt to be covert in any way. The idea is that everyone is aware that the camera is there and is being used for a specific incident.Where the teacher feels there's a threat to themselves or to another student, then there will be evidence of that incident."
Now, whilst I applaud the transparency of the experiment, I do have some reservations as to whether this really is the answer to any potential problems in our classrooms. I spent nearly seven years working at the local university here in Portsmouth as part of their security team for halls of residence and academic buildings where we used body cameras, and I never felt comfortable about wearing or using this technology.
The technology was supposed to provide security staff with the means to record any instances where they felt their safety was threatened, or the safety of the students we were there to ultimately protect. However, I found the cameras to be intrusive and didn’t defuse potentially volatile situations. Instead, they escalated them. Can you imagine being inside your private dorms and having a security officer knocking your door and effectively shoving a camera in your face? Even though initially you haven’t done anything wrong?
The technology could also potentially erode the integrity of teachers. Do we no longer take their word as a bond? Do they really need to produce video evidence of any incidents to back up their version of events, even if a crime has been committed? Why on earth would you employ someone to such a role, if your intention is to question their integrity when an incident occurs?
Of all this we need to be mindful. When I was growing up teachers were pillars of our community who were respected. I fear with this kind of approach we are going to make them unapproachable to our kids. It’s also a sign that they are losing their authority inside the classrooms and we no longer believe them. In all walks of life there are difficult people to handle and conflict management training is an integral part of the SIA licence from the security sector. Rather than potentially giving our teachers body cameras, why not train them to manage conflict as we do in the security sector?
Finally, there is the potential for employers to use any evidence recorded to spy on their staff for other means. During my employment at the university for a contracted security company I was told in writing that the usage and wearing of the body cameras were not only policy, but mandatory as part of the contract. I queried this, as I hadn’t seen the information. But a policy document wasn’t forthcoming and I wasn’t able to see the contract. The members of the management at this point were still adamant that we were to record all interactions we had with students on campus, effectively spying. It transpired after a short time that a policy document didn’t exist, despite the fact it was written into the contract that the company had with the university.
It was as hypocritical then as it is now. Imagine somebody claiming a policy exists, but when questioned and asked to provide evidence. The people in question were unable too. Yet they expected their front-line security officers to be accountable via video evidence? It was very much the culture of ‘do as I say, but don’t do as I do.’
It’s a culture that has damaged the security industry and in my experience, has driven people out of the business. Anybody can train to be a security officer, but finding people with the will and desire to teach could become increasingly difficult. Especially as class sizes continue to grow and the hours that our teachers work become more and more unsociable.
Ultimately, it may be the case that this experiment is a rousing success and our teachers may implore the state to roll this out in our schools. I just urge caution and process are used, because if we get this wrong our classrooms may not be places for education anymore. They may become like Big Brother, where your every moved is watched.
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