Kent Police has ditched its supplier of body-worn video equipment less than three years after vigorously insisting that it had found the perfect firm to meet its needs.
The Canterbury Journal can exclusively reveal that the force is shelling out £3.21 million on brand new equipment and back-up systems having spent £1.8 million on 1,600 devices as recently as 2015.
Three years ago it awarded a contract to B-Cam, a tiny Cornwall-based firm with just a handful of employees which imported cameras from China and had only existed since 2012.
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At the same time the neighbouring Met Police opted to buy 22,000 cameras from the reputable and established international law enforcement equipment supplier Taser as part of a six-year deal.
Kent Police’s new contract is with Taser, which now operates as Axon Public Safety UK.
At the time of the 2015 deal, questions about the B-Cam device began to surface. Officers privately reported that they were struggling to download footage.
It also emerged that the force had paid £550 for each B-Cam device even though they are available direct from the Chinese manufacturer Along for just £65.
Meanwhile, a top of the range camera with twice the memory of the Kent Police model and an ultra hi-definition screen was discovered to be on the market for £104 per unit.
In 2015 spending on body-worn video equipment was overseen by the then Kent Police and Crime Commissioner Ann Barnes who angrily rejected any comparison of B-Cam equipment with that being used by other forces, including the Metropolitan Police.
In November of that year, Kent Police insisted it was “confident the purchase of body-worn video cameras for frontline officers represents good value for money”. A force spokesman added it was “not helpful to try and compare commercially available products and their costs without a very detailed knowledge of the specification required”.
This week the Office of the Kent Police and Crime Commissioner said technology had moved on and that it was switching to Taser, which the Met has been using since autumn 2015, because officers now need “more advanced” equipment. There is also a requirement for armed officers to use body worn video.
In May of 2016 Matthew Scott replaced Ann Barnes as Police and Crime Commissioner.
He oversaw the new £3.21 million four-year contract which involved the purchase of 3,000 devices. They will be rolled out to all frontline police officers, specials and PCSOs across the force.
Cameras have proved a particularly effective crime-fighting and evidence-gathering tool. They have also helped reduce the number of false or vexatious complaints made against officers on duty.
Mr Scott said: “Using Body Worn Video cameras on our streets to capture evidence has become as ordinary as CCTV.
“However, technology is only useful if it continually develops and improves to meet the challenges and demands officers and staff face.
“Having considered the options now on the market and heard about the benefits of the new cameras, such as faster upload speeds, I agreed with the Chief Constable that Kent Police would be better equipped with the more advanced model.
“I have a responsibility to ensure taxpayers’ money is spent wisely and I’m confident these devices will increase transparency, help speed up the criminal justice process and enable Kent Police to deliver an even better service for victims of crime.”