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NSW Police issued with body cameras to 'hold everyone to account'

"A picture is worth a thousand words" according to NSW Police, which is issuing officers with 'Body Worn Video' to help collect evidence and provide an accurate record of police and civilian behaviour.

A NSW Police officer shows off the new body camera. Screenshot by Claire Reilly/CNET

Front line police officers in NSW are set to have body cameras fitted to their uniforms in order to record video and audio to support investigations and improve "officer and community safety."

Already rolling out into Sydney's eastern suburbs, NSW Police says its "Body Worn Video" technology will not record constantly, but will be "activated for use in operational policing activities, or where recording is deemed in public interest."

While NSW Police have only used the technology in trials until this point, the use of 'body cams' is an established practice in the UK and United States. While the technology can assist in daily policing and the collection of evidence for investigations, it has also raised questions around the propriety of police behaviour and the ethics of releasing taped records to the public.

However, NSW Police Force Commissioner Andrew Scipione says BWV will help law enforcement hold both police and civilians accountable.

"BWV will provide a record of the actions of both the officer and individuals they are engaged with," Commissioner Scipione said. "The vision will essentially be used for evidence gathering to support prosecutions, but it will also allow police to analyse interactions, improve practices and support officer training and education.

"BWV will hold everyone to account for their actions, including police. A picture is worth a thousand words, and if you're recorded doing the wrong thing -- no matter who you are -- the evidence will be tough to dispute."

The cameras will be capable of working in low light and capturing HD footage with a 150-degree field of vision, as well as still photographs and audio only. The cameras can also live-stream vision to remote command locations, and while officers will need to initiate recording each time, they will be able to get a 30-second back capture of footage.

NSW Police says the cameras could also prove useful in recording evidence in domestic violence situations when victims might be reluctant to give evidence, and will help reduce officer injuries and time spent on paperwork.

The police force also says all footage will be encrypted on the camera before being downloaded to secure databases and then deleted from the device itself.

The world of law enforcement is becoming increasingly digitised, with police notably petitioning for increased access to metadata under a data retention regime and the Federal Government announcing an AU$18.5 million investment to establish the National Facial Biometric Matching Capability earlier this month.

But NSW Minister for Police Troy Grant was eager to put NSW residents at ease, saying body cameras were essentially just the modern data equivalent of a "notebook".

Regardless of the technology police in the field, there's no doubt the fuzz is moving with the times: The body camera launch was first announced on Twitter and broadcast on Periscope.