SAFERtheatre: Can body cameras reduce aggression and violence in theatres?

SAFERTheatre: Can body cameras reduce aggression and violence in theatres?

A teacher wears a Calla bodycam
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Date Published: 10 July 2019

by Ben Read, Marketing Manager, Calla and Phillip Brown, Head of Risk and Safety, SOLT and UK Theatre 

Body cameras have been proven to deter aggression and provide an independent account of incidents for Police across the country. But it’s not just law enforcement who face situations where body cameras can make a difference. Nurses, teachers and retail staff are also regularly in situations where they face disruption or aggression. And the problem is getting worse.

In retail alone, the rate of reported violence with injury has doubled in a year to 6 per 1,000 workers – twice last year’s figure. At that rate, across all roles in retail 13 individuals were injured every day of the year. Without injury there are still 40 incidents of violence and abuse per 1,000 workers – the second highest level recorded. Couple this with rising customer theft and the total direct cost of retail crime has risen to just over £700m*.

Phill Brown Head of Risk & Safety for the Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre says that Theatres have not escaped this trend across retail. “The challenges facing theatres today are probably quite similar to retail with increasing levels of aggression towards staff. 

Phill Brown wearing a Calla Bodycam.jpg

“When you mix in alcohol with the theatre environment then that can exacerbate situations and we want to try to manage that before it becomes a major problem within our industry.”   

Earlier this year as part of the industry SAFERtheatre campaign SOLT & UK Theatre asked all venues to report increasing levels of aggression and poor audience behaviour.  This new initiative will map concerns and raise understanding of the issues, so that practical help can be put in place.

Theatres have already implemented a number of measures to attempt to curb aggression such as training, guarding and CCTV, however these can sometimes be limited in their effectiveness.

“In regard to CCTV there are limitations in that there are some areas of the venue that can be vulnerable if you've not got footage.” Brown explained.

As a result, some West End theatres have trialled body cameras to see if they can help make a difference and protect staff.

“We've developed a partnership with Calla and introduced body cameras to tackle some of the problems within theatres.” Brown said. 

“Staff don’t feel it’s intrusive but see it now as part of their uniform and as a result feel more supported and more motivated. Currently the cameras are being used mainly to de-escalate potential incidents. That’s when the cameras come in to their own. The usher will be the first person to try to resolve a situation with the camera on, and if that doesn’t work then venues have protocols to call a senior manager. The management feel more empowered too. If they have to face a dangerous situation, they've got an additional tool that will support them.” 

“We did a trial at a busy West End venue for three months and the feedback I received from the staff was very positive, particularly from the Duty Manager and security guards. They all expressed that the ease of use and the ability to review the footage very quickly was very beneficial.”

Every tool available must be explored and utilised to ensure venues are safe and welcoming for everyone.  The theatre industry must be on the front foot to ensure audience members and staff have the best experience when visiting or working in theatre.  SAFERtheatre reports will highlight the real problems affecting the industry and provide factual data rather than anecdotal information.   The reporting system will track productions, incident behaviour & the reason for staff intervention, the outcome and also the impact of others.  Through this scheme and the use of technology, such as body cameras and CCTV, useful information can be collected.  This information can then assist in the identification of training needs and the development of industry best practice.

 “We have seen in some of the reports from the pilots that people have backed down, calmed down and walked away from situations. I think just the fact that people can see themselves behaving in an unpleasant way can sometimes be enough to calm people down and de-escalate themselves to actually walk away from the situation before it turns into something more significant.

“So, I think body cameras can make a difference “.

Calla have teamed up with SOLT and UK Theatre to provide a 10% discount for all members looking to introduce body cameras in their theatre. Click here to claim your 10% discount.  

*Figures from the British Retail Consortium’s 2017 retail crime survey   

To find out more about SAFERtheatre,  contact Phill Brown, Head of Risk and Safety, SOLT UK Theatre.

Enjoyed this blog post? 

You may also like to read Audiences Behaving Badly And What We Should Do About It by Dr. Kirsty Sedgman, Lecturer in Theatre and British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Bristol.

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