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Austria to test police body cameras

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Austria to test police body cameras
File photo: Landespolizeikommando
16:37 CEST+02:00
Austrian police will start wearing body-mounted cameras as part of a test programme from January 2016, the interior ministry has confirmed.

The cameras are seen as a tool for collecting evidence for criminal investigations, exposing abusive police practices, and exonerating officers from fabricated charges.

Interior Ministry spokesman Karl-Heinz Grundböck confirmed a report in the Österreich newspaper on Monday but said the details of the trial, which will affect police in Vienna and other locations in Austria are still to be fixed. It is still unclear how long the test phase will last.

The body cameras are designed to record images and sound and should provide “comprehensive documentation," Grundböck said. He said that they will be used in situations “where it can be assumed that there will be an escalation of violence”.

The body-worn cameras were first discussed in May 2014 after right-wing demonstrators in Vienna clashed with counter-demonstrators and police. At the time the police were accused of having carried out “an orgy of violence”, and beating up various left-wing protesters.

After the backlash, Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner (ÖVP) rejected calls for police to wear individual ID badges and said she was in favour of body cameras.

Some specialized prison guards will also test the body cameras from January 2016. They are called in when prison situations escalate and become aggressive or when inmates threaten to kill themselves.

A spokesman for the justice ministry, Josef Schmoll, said the cameras were being tested after an increase of abuse allegations against prison officers. He said the cameras would help ensure officers are following the correct procedures, and would also serve as evidence if allegations of abuse are made.

He added that they would complement taser cameras, which are already used by specialized prison guards, to document when a taser is fired. He said tasers had only been used once in 2013 and 2014 in Austrian prisons, in both instances to prevent a suicide attempt.

Body-mounted cameras were introduced for French police officers working in high crime areas last year, as a way to cut the number of attacks on police, and several German cities have experimented with the technology.

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