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Body-worn video - keeping people safe and improving our service

Body-worn video cameras are helping us to keep people safe and improve our service to asylum seekers, says our managing director responsible for asylum seeker accommodation, John Whitwam
Asylum seeker accommodation

As a key provider of accommodation to asylum seekers in the UK, our teams are vital in providing safe, decent housing to people coming to the country in search of sanctuary.  We are one of three organisations that deliver this service to the Home Office and currently look after about 18,000 people in two regions; the North East, Yorkshire and the Humber; and the Midlands and East of England.  Every day, our team of welfare officers, maintenance crews, transport teams and call centre handlers have thousands of positive interactions with the people we are charged with looking after.
While the vast majority of the people we house are kind, courteous and respectful, in recent months we have seen an increase in the number of violent or aggressive incidents against our staff.  It is against that backdrop – and after a particularly serious incident which left a member of our team unable to work for three months – that we decided to rollout body-worn video cameras as further protection and a way for employees to record or de-escalate incidents where they may be at risk. 
The cameras build on other initiatives to improve safety, including the deployment of lone worker devices, conflict resolution training and information sharing and to date, video captured by the devices has been used on three occasions.  Firstly, a welfare officer interrupted and recorded a fight between a husband and wife and the film was used as evidence in a family court.  Secondly, video evidence was used to disprove an allegation of misconduct against one of our welfare officers.  On the third occasion, the footage was used to partially uphold a complaint about an employee using unprofessional language.  It’s already clear that the cameras help to protect our staff, other asylum seekers and also help us to improve our service.   
Our initial rollout of body-worn video cameras was imperfect and we have since refreshed our written communication with asylum seekers and published additional information online.  We have engaged with the Information Commissioner’s Office to ensure our Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) is proportionate and liaised with the Home Office and a range of stakeholders including our own staff and service users.  We have listened to their feedback and made changes to our policy and practice. 
We are resolutely committed to caring for the people we house in the best way possible and in accordance with the rules set down by the Home Office.  The rollout of body-worn video cameras helps to meet my moral and legal duty to take all reasonable steps to keep our team safe and at the same time the devices will undoubtedly improve the quality and transparency of our service to the people we look after.
John Whitwam is managing director responsible for G4S’s contract with the UK Home Office to provide accommodation for asylum seekers.