Search form

menu menu

Belgium adopts new rules on police use of bodycams

08:55 31/01/2024

The use of bodycams - cameras attached to a police officer’s uniform that record images and sounds during interventions - will now be regulated, justice minister Paul Van Tigchelt and interior minister Annelies Verlinden have announced.

The new law that has come into force has been passed to help combat violence by and against the police.

Since 2018, bodycam use was covered by the sale law as dashcams - cameras in a car’s dashboard that continuously record the view through the vehicle’s front windscreen and sometimes rear or other windows.

Since then, several police officers have used bodycams. They argue that they enable conflicts to be defused more quickly, as people know they are being filmed.

“There is an increase in aggression and violence in society, and we must take the fight against it very seriously. We cannot tolerate someone who wants to help another person becoming a victim of aggression,” said Verlinden.

“The police must be able to use modern tools daily. Bodycams help to de-escalate violence, gather more evidence, put interventions into their real context and to ensure transparency of police action,” justice minister Paul Van Tigchelt said, adding that “everyone benefits from objective images.”

By default, footage will be stored for 30 days before being deleted, unless they have value as evidence in a case.

The person filmed must be informed that the camera is being used unless the intervention involves too many people.

The regulation will be applicable uniformly across all police zones and enable bodycam images to be used as evidence in investigations, disciplinary procedures or trials.

The new framework also states that bodycam use in administrative or judicial interventions “is possible if there is a real risk of violence or aggression, if the police uses coercion, if the integrity of police officers, persons involved or third parties is compromised, if someone is preparing, committing or has committed an offence, if public order is disturbed, if the use of a camera is necessary to collect evidence, if it is called for to provide assistance or if a court decision must be executed,” the ministers say.

The rules further specify that the intervention must be filmed in its entirety, including, ideally, 30 seconds before the problem starts, to limit the risk of a dispute afterwards, adding: “This benefits truth-telling and will benefit the police and the public.”

In addition, the law states that police officers must comply with citizens’ demands to activate bodycams if they do not interfere with the police mission. For their part, citizens can use smartphones or their camera to film police interventions if this does not disrupt police work, and if police orders are respected.

There is no age limit for the filmed person, but using bodycams on minors - people under 18 - should be restricted as much as possible.

In addition, filming must not violate the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). This means that footage should not be distributed and published if police officers are recognisable on it.

Today there are already 4,000 bodycams in use in Belgium, in local police zones and with the federal police. The new bodycam law only applies to the police, not to other emergency services such as the fire brigade.

“We have used them comprehensively for about five years, while in other police zones, bodycams are only used for pilot projects,” said Philip Vanhees, representative of Marlow police zone - which covers Auderghem, Uccle and Watermael-Boitsfort.

The new rules will bring clarity on the ground for intervention teams. “A big improvement is that from now on, we can use our bodycams in other Brussels police zones,” Vanhees said, expecting that bodycams will now be used more across the capital.

Els Rochette, from the Flemish social democrat party Vooruit, has called for harmonised bodycam rules for years.

"This is also what young people want," she said. "Recordings made by a bodycam are a supplementary tool to check what happens in police controls. Today there are too many differences in how they are used depending on the police zone."

Until now, police forces bought their cameras separately and did not use the same type. In December, Brussels minister-president Rudi Vervoort told the Brussels parliament that "group purchases" were not on the agenda, but that police could order bodycams with security services giant Securitas, via Belgium’s federal agreement with the firm’s Brussels base.

Vervoort is also considering carrying out a feasibility study to find out if bodycam images can be shared with police zone call centres by being put on the National Crisis Centre (NCC) video surveillance platform.

The national security portal ICMS (Incident and Crisis Management System) is an online platform where emergency services, authorities and partners can prepare for an emergency and exchange information during a crisis situation.

The NCC is responsible for the development of this platform, providing training to new users and offering technical support on how to use it.

Written by Liz Newmark