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Police headcams burst into flames

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Exclusive The news that Metropolitan police officers patrolling the nation's capital may soon carry GPS tracking equipment has been overshadowed by shock revelations that uniform-mounted video cams have "caught fire" in use.

The news comes courtesy of the Metropolitan Police Federation, the equivalent of a union for the lowest four ranks of London's police.

Discussing issues around personal technology for use by Met officers on patrol with the Reg today, Federation chairman Peter Smyth spoke about the use of plod-cams to provide an unarguable record of disputed events and confrontations. The equipment has been trialled across the UK by various forces, but isn't yet routinely issued in London.

"We're not against it," said Smyth. "But a couple of them have caught fire, which isn't ideal."

Smyth gave it as his opinion that recording cameras could provide useful corroboration for an officer's account of events, especially in cases of malicious accusations being made - which he said is a common problem. But clearly he felt that it would be necessary for the camera equipment not to spontaneously burst into flame while in use.

It would seem that even police headcam equipment isn't immune to the sort of heat issues which have bedevilled other items of modern technology in recent times. The last few years have seen a constant parade of laptop infernos, gadget conflagrations and even horrendous iPod-related trouser fireball incidents.

Regarding plans to update police Airwave radios with onboard GPS satnav, so as to have an idea of patrolling officers' location, Smyth said that the Automatic Person Location Systems (APLS) technology, shortly to go on trial on London's streets, still had some problems.

"It doesn't do what it says on the tin," he said. "Any given officer's position is normally only updated every twenty minutes or half an hour. If you're looking at an incident and wanting to know who's nearest it isn't much good - you can be a long way off in twenty minutes."

APLS is also intended to offer an emergency feature whereby an officer can press a button on his or her radio and automatically send an "officer in trouble" signal complete with location. Smyth was enthusiastic about this aspect of the tech, saying it was "great ... we've got no problems with that part at all".

It's being suggested by police management that technologies such as APLS and wearable recording cameras would allow much more use of single-officer patrols as opposed to cops working in pairs or larger teams. This could mean more coverage and presence from the same number of cops.

"We're not against it," said Smyth. "But we're not sure it should be the 'default' option. There are some situations and some areas where it just isn't a good idea."

Smyth also said that technology wasn't always helpful in the matter of solo patrolling. He said that police vehicles now have so much gear in them that it's "just not possible" for a single officer to handle it all and drive safely at the same time.

We contacted the Met for comment, but by time of publication they had not produced a response. ®

Updated

Scotland Yard got back to us to say that no-one should be concerned that PCs were risking their lives and hair. A spokesman said that during trials of the cams, some chargers "had emitted smoke", but no headsets caught fire. He said that the chargers concerned had been withdrawn, and the Yard was in discussion with the manufacturer about replacements.

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