In the following interview, Thorsten Bleckmann, Head of the Municipal Field Service at the Citizens’ and Public Order Office in Duisburg, gives us exciting insights into the successful use of body cams to improve security and de-escalation in the city. Learn more about the background, benefits and challenges of this innovative approach.
Since when have the body cams been in use by the municipal service in Duisburg?
In April 2022, we started a test deployment with 20 body cams. After evaluation, we have in October 2022 finally decided to equip all employees with it.
Why did you decide to use body cams?
As the head of the municipal field service, I regularly inform myself about legislative changes that affect the work of my employees. I also pay special attention to possible innovations regarding safety equipment. After the amendment [of the law on public order authorities] was passed and the possibility for public order authorities to be able to use body cams was created, I dealt with this topic more intensively and brought it to the Duisburg administration g. Since the equipment with body cams is also associated with considerable costs, I have exchanged information with other companies (e.g. with the Deutsche Bahn), which have already used the body cams. I was particularly interested in how situations can be de-escalated through the use of body cams or how they can be prevented from escalating in the first place. I received consistently positive feedback from other companies on the subject of body cams. Subsequently, I have obtained appropriate offers from several providers. Iin a further step, the body cams were first tested by us, before it went into full equipment.
How was the testphase?
We have noticed that the cameras already have a de-escalating effect in many conversations with citizens without even being turned on. Sometimes we are asked if the camera is one and if it has already been turned on. Then we explain the multi-stage procedure for de-escalation: first, the camera is just present, then there is the option of just turning on the display, and only if the situation still hasn’t calmed down and continues to escalate do we start a recording. The feedback I have from employees is consistently positive. It happens, of course, that the camera doesn’t impress someone, for example, under the influence of drugs or mentally insane. In the case of argumentative people who are mentally clear and know exactly what they are doing, the mere presence of the camera causes them to moderate themselves and the situation, even if it has already boiled up, de-escalates another time.
Did you have any technical problems during the testphase?
In individual cases, there are cameras with which the data cannot be downloaded. We also had problems with the batteries, individual body cams did not last a whole shift. In the meantime the settings of the body cams have been changed and the batteries hold out. So there are now and then technical problems, but the support when problems arise is good.
How do people in Duisburg react to the body cams?
If they react at all, it is positive and interested. Negative reactions in actions are rare. Most often, a situation relaxes as soon as the camera is turned on.
Duisburg is the first large municipality to deploy the NetCo Body-Cam. Do you have any tips and advice for other municipalities that are also interested in using Body-Cam?
It is important that the employees and later main users are included in the considerations from the beginning. Initially, there were also reservations about the use of body cams (e.g., fear of surveillance or recording of one’s own work), but these were dispelled by the test participants after a short time. Testing was carried out in a working group of the municipal field service and by some employees of traffic monitoring. Now employees feel safer using the body cams.
Generally, when acquiring new technology or software, it is important to be open with existing information and include all stakeholders in the process. Due to the use of body cams, a decrease in psychological and physical attacks towards users has been recorded in Duisburg. Therefore, the acquisition in Duisburg has been worthwhile in any case.
Thorsten Bleckmann is the head of the municipal field service at the Citizens’ and Public Order Office in Duisburg and has made a strong case for the body-cam use at the Duisburg Public Order Service after the law on public order authorities was amended.