Body Worn Cameras (BWC) are increasingly being used by government and corporate organisations who have staff that are client-facing. In other words, personnel that deal with clients, customers, consumers, offenders… anyone really.

It’s not uncommon now to see government staff wearing the cameras and now many shop staff are wearing them. And yes, it’s sad that employees have to resort to filming people in order to change their behaviour and protect themselves. COVID-19 taught us that even the best of us can get aggressive, angry and difficult at times.

But what’s the point of these cameras? And do they really change behaviour?

There’s not a lot of research on these points, and those wearing them will tell you that they can change what a person says and does (once they know they’re being recorded). An equal number probably say that it can also make things worse.

Do the cameras actually protect staff?

The short answer is no. It’s easy enough to activate the camera and get evidence of a person’s actions. That can certainly help later. What’s most important is how the employee conducts themselves whilst the camera is activated. What’s essential is

  • What they say, and how they say it.
  • How they communicate non-verbally
  • How they assess and practice situational awareness

Be cautious about handing out BWC’s to staff, teaching them how to turn it off and off, and sending them out to use the devices. What’s essential is that they are provided the necessary communication skills when under pressure. Things like

  • Skills how to de-escalate someone who may be aggressive or angry
  • How to resolve conflict
  • How to assess situations, monitor pre-event indicators and have plans
  • How to keep the reactionary distance and assess risks

And, importantly, practice doing these things under actual pressure, so when the real thing happens, they’ll be better prepared.

The expert trainers at the Professional Investigators College of Australasia (PICA) deliver BWC and essential communications training across the country, to government and private sector employees. We’re the only college in Australia who combine camera usage training with de-escalation, conflict resolution and situational awareness. 

With an ever-increasing focus on psychosocial health, work health and safety and occupational violence, body worn cameras are a useful tool in minimising these risks. But they aren’t the ‘be-all-and-end-all.’ Organisations must think about a wholistic approach to this training and ensure they all give staff wearing the BWC’s the essential communication skills that are needed. After all, the greatest weapon in protecting staff is a persons’ mouth.