Paramedic body worn camera trial expanding to regional NSW

  • Published October 28, 2022

St George & Sutherland Shire Leader, 28 October 2022

Body worn cameras aiming to prevent occupational violence against paramedics will be trialled in the NSW Riverina as the program rolls out to regional centres.

The trial has been operating in three Sydney locations since 2019 but the latest expansion into Wagga will be rolled out in conjunction with a new Charles Sturt University (CSU) study.

The collected data could help create a pathway for the use of body worn cameras in NSW and across the rest of the country.
Ambulance NSW station officer Charles Milne, who was part of the previous Sydney trials, said he had seen a noticeable difference in people's behaviour around them.

"At times when we have explained to the person who's exhibiting [violent] behaviour that they are being recorded, we have seen de-escalation in some respects," Mr MiIne said.

"And de-escalation of bystanders as well.

"It's all about defending the whole scene and making us and our patients safe."

Mr Milne said he had experienced several scenarios where body cameras could help both paramedics and the people they treated.

That was the case with an early morning call out to Sydney's Oxford Street treating a critical, unconscious patient that required immediate attention but who was surrounded by bystanders.

"We're always hampered by people who, maybe with good intention or maybe with bad intention, get in our way and limit our ability to provide that life saving care in that really immediate time," Mr Milne said.

The body cameras are now being trialled across six locations in NSW with Artarmon and Northmead joining Wagga in December and at least one camera being used per working crew on each shift in every location.

NSW Ambulance senior manager safety Michal Marszalek said privacy requirements for the use of body cameras were built into existing privacy legislation at a state level.

"So, it's very robust and the manner in which our paramedics can use the cameras is very tightly controlled and governed," Mr Marszalek said.

While the footage could be used in criminal proceedings, Mr Marszalek said the primary focus for introducing cameras was to alter the behaviour of people interacting with front line staff.

The cameras do not film at all times but must be turned on by individual paramedics if they feel they are in a situation which poses significant risk.

An Ambulance NSW spokesperson said the cameras had enabled paramedics to intentionally record and categorise 245 incidents in that time.

7 per cent were categorised as assaults, 15 per cent as other forms of occupational violence and 78 per cent as potential threats.

Australia's peak union bodies representing paramedics has shown its support for the introduction of body cameras but were split on how quickly they should be up and running.

Health Services Union national president Gerard Hayes supported the body worn cameras for the volatile work environment but said they could not be considered as a "killer blow to resolve all violence".

"It's really important that any kind of deterrent can be utilised to ensure that they are safe," Mr Hayes said.

"And if this is going to deter 10 or 15 per cent of people from acting out, that's a step in the direction."

Mr Hayes said the cameras should be rolled out further than simply through trials.

"I've got no idea why this has taken so long," he said.

Australian Paramedics Association assistant secretary Brendan McIlveen said the cameras should not be rushed out to avoid unnecessary costs if they prove to be ineffective.

"At the moment, we've received no data as to whether they actually improve the decrease in occupational violence," Mr McIlveen said.

"We need to really see some research, some evidence to determine if it's the right thing to do."

Mr McIlveen said the national union was "optimistic" about the continued trials and the independent research from CSU on their efficacy.

"Paramedic safety is paramount," he said.