In addition to the Duisburg public order office (Duisburg Tests Body Cams — NetCo Professional Services GmbH), the city of Bonn also already uses body cams. Sascha Hessenbruch, head of the administrative offences and public order department at the city of Bonn, spoke to NetCo about the use of cameras at the Bonn public order department and the de-escalating effect of a body cam with front display.
Mr. Hessenbruch, you are in charge of the “Body Cam” project for the Bonn city police. How long have you been using the cameras?
In Bonn, we have been using a total of 40 body cams since the beginning of June 2022. By council resolution, we are obliged to evaluate this deployment after one year — i.e. in June 2023.
Why did you decide to use body cams?
In our council resolution in 2020, it was already decided to purchase body cams to protect our emergency forces. At that time, there was no legal basis in NRW for using body cams. It was merely part of the political discussion. So we were early in the planning in Bonn. The legal change in the Public Order Authorities Act then came only in the summer of 2021, after which we implemented the decision — as quickly as is possible with a procurement procedure.
How does the front display in particular help your emergency response teams?
We actually notice a de-escalating effect. Not everyone agrees on whether the front display actually has this effect, but this is how we perceive it: at the moment when the front display is switched on, the camera is not yet recording, but is only in an operating mode. In this one, it truly helps de-escalate situations when the other person sees themselves in the display. So it de-escalates the situation as a whole, especially the behavior of the other person.
That means that body cam recording only occurs on rare occasions for you?
Exactly, this has only happened very rarely so far. Maybe we had 2 or 3 cases where the body cam actually recorded the situation, but it won’t have been much more. In most cases, it is enough to turn on the body cam front display.
How is the body cam received by your emergency forces?
It’s getting better and better, but that’s a process with everything that’s new.
We use the body cam primarily in two areas: firstly, in our patrol service (city order service) and secondly, at the GABI police station, which we operate together with the police. At the GABI station, the body cam was initially used somewhat more than in the city order service, because the emergency forces there are also confronted with other situations. In the meantime, however, the body cam is being used very actively by everyone, and most of them have now also completed their training.
Our body cams are not personalized, but we have them each in a pool. Of course, we have to make a few adjustments every now and then to make the handling of the body cams as uncomplicated as possible for our colleagues. The more complicated it is, the more often the body cam is simply left standing and not used. That’s why we have reworked the handling and wearing comfort — keyword: holders — and it now works well.
How do the people of Bonn react to the body cams and the front display?
To be honest, they don’t react at all. We have been very open with the acquisition project of the body cams and have informed very broadly. Since our press event on June 3rd this year, the body cams have been in use. The local newspapers — the Lokalzeit, the WDR, the radio — have been here with us, have accompanied our task forces, have informed themselves, have in turn informed the readers, viewers, listeners. Since then, there have been virtually no reactions from the public. What has happened from time to time is that people say “Yes, that’s a good thing that you’re out and about with the body cams,” but I haven’t heard any negative reactions. After all, the point is to document certain operational situations to protect emergency personnel. Many people have found that these situations do exist and that employees need to be protected accordingly.
Many have data protection concerns. Was that the case for you before you acquired the body cams?
No, data protection was not a big issue for us at all. We are often confronted with data protection issues being brought to our attention from outside, but this has not yet happened with the body cams. The topic of data protection is much less exciting for a regulatory authority — at least in NRW — because ultimately there is also a clear legal basis for it. The legal framework is anchored in the Public Order Authorities Act and the Police Act, with the result that we have less to worry about than, for example, the KVB or other private companies. And that’s why no one is questioning it.
Internally, of course, we still considered data protection issues: who can see and edit recordings? Could there possibly be consequences under employment law if certain things are recorded? But the purpose of a body cam recording — namely a regulatory purpose — is very clearly outlined, so data protection is not a problem here either. We have a clear authorization concept for all issues, and our software system is also data protection-compliant.
Thank you very much for the interview, Mr. Hessenbruch!
About The Person:
Sascha Hessenbruch is head of the department for general misdemeanors, traffic offenses, the city’s public order service and the Bonn city center joint contact point (GABI station — regulatory partnership between the state police and the public order office) at the city of Bonn. Thus, he is also the contact person when it comes to the topic of body cam.
At the next NetCo Body Cam Conference on June 14th, 2023 in Cologne (2nd Body Cam Conference — Secure tickets for the next conference now (netco.de)), he will give a presentation on the body cam evaluation of the first year at the Bonn City Police Service.