Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon calls for police to wear body cameras to expose 'bias or racism'

Meng Foon has called for the introduction of body cameras for NZ Police.
Meng Foon has called for the introduction of body cameras for NZ Police. Photo credit: Getty Images / The AM Show

Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon is calling for body cameras to be worn by New Zealand Police to help expose - and eliminate - cases of unconscious and racial bias. 

In a statement to Newshub on Thursday, Foon praised a recent initiative launched by the force to address issues regarding fair and equitable treatment. The University of Waikato collaboration, 'Understanding Policing Delivery', will look into the existence of unconscious bias within the ranks. 

"It strikes me there is an option that could help," he said. "While the use of body cameras by police is not a magic solution for all issues in this space, it may be a useful item in the toolbox alongside the University of Waikato work."

He is now calling for a "frank and honest" discussion about the possibility of introducing body cameras for all police officers.

"Police have conceded that systemic racism exists in the force. It has also been stated there are three risks in policing when it comes to bias of any kind: who is stopped or spoken to; how force is used; and how prosecutions are sought," Foon said.

"Body cameras could be an integral tool in dealing with these risk areas."

 The Commissioner acknowledged the need for regulations around storing and accessing the footage, as well as training officers to use the cameras correctly.

"I would be against any technology that could lead to greater instances of racial profiling, such as facial recognition," he added.

Foon noted that any move to implement body cameras would need to be explored with consultation from the community and experts alike, such as the Privacy Commissioner, to ensure any concerns regarding the collection, use and retention of information are addressed. 

"Policing can be a complex and challenging job and while work is being done around improving processes, I am also concerned at the presence of unconscious racial bias, or racist systems and processes. I believe the use of body cameras could also protect both police and public, by exposing cases of bias or racism while also disproving false allegations," Foon said.

"In short, the introduction of body cameras could be a beneficial move and needs more discussion."

Former policeman, MP and lawyer Chester Borrows has previously backed calls for body cameras, with the Police Association also supporting the proposal. President Chris Cahill said officers have "nothing to hide".

A recent University of Chicago paper found that among surveyed police departments in the US, the use of body cameras saw complaints against police drop by 17 percent - and the use of force by officers decreased by nearly 10 percent.

In June 2020, there were renewed calls for officers to wear body cameras at all times while on duty after a man died in police custody.

Manslaughter charges were laid against three officers after the man died at the station in Hawera. The heavily intoxicated 55-year-old was arrested in relation to an alleged domestic assault on May 31 last year, but was found unresponsive in the early hours of June 1. 

It took a year-long investigation for charges to be filed, but criminal barrister Michael Bott of Heretaunga Law says footage from that night could have expedited the process.

"We rely upon the evidence in their notebook. It would be much more preferable if police were made to use body cameras when use of force is used," he told Newshub.