Friday, 6 August 2010

Cameras to be turned back on in Birmingham

There are reports this morning that the controversial cameras in the Washwood Heath and Sparkbrook areas of Birmingham will be switched on despite objections from some residents.

According to reports in the Birmingham Mail, opposition to the cameras wasn't as universal as campaigners would have liked people to believe.

We'll try to follow up on these reports in due course.

Radio 5 Live debates: Cameras or crime, you choose

Radio 5 Live hosted a call-in this morning about CCTV. Overall it was a balanced presentation, with the usual rhetoric issuing from both sides of the debate.

On the one hand, CCTV is a step too far. On the other hand, we feel safer with CCTV and besides if you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear.

Most balanced comment came from Akim (sorry if I've misspelled your name) who made the point that there are pros and cons to installing CCTV, but if the worst that you can say about it is that it can record your image in a public place, then that's not enough to condemn it.

There's a small (very small) contribution from yours truly near the end of the programme.

You can listen to it until Friday 13th August at

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Residents of Birmingham voice support for cameras

It's perhaps too early to declare that all residents of Sparkbrook and Washwood Heath in Birmingham support the controversial installation of CCTV cameras in their area, but according to the Birmingham Mail, police received a favourable response to the cameras in a walkabout yesterday.

Residents are quoted as saying they support the idea of cameras but they were angry at the way they were installed without consultation.

A snippet from the article:

They [the police] were met with a chorus of support for the cameras but anger at the way they were installed.

Riaz Mohammed is a member of the British Pashtun Council, made up of Pashtun people originally from Afghanistan and Western Pakistan.

He said: “I personally am in favour of them.

“If someone is going to commit a crime we’ve a better chance of catching them.

“What annoyed me was the fact we were not consulted.”

I'm not surprised that residents are rallying behind the cameras. I said before that I thought it was a vocal minority who were making the most noise about this. Surely it's time to move beyond this knee-jerk civil libertarian response to all CCTV cameras and judge them for what they are: one tool among many in the crime and disorder toolkit.

The solution to crime and disorder shouldn't start with the assumption that CCTV will be installed. Rather the social, historical and criminological profile of an area should be carefully studied and if CCTV is appropriate, it will be part of a suite of measures aimed at containing the problem as well as addressing the underlying causes of crime.

~Posted by: Tom Reeve

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Sometimes I just have to scratch my head and say "Huh?!! Surely no one can be that stupid."

The latest source of head lice, so to speak, was a piece in the Good article, nothing to complain about here:
Ministers attack tougher rules for security cameras
The government's plans for stricter regulation of CCTV came under attack from Tory backbenchers and a former Home Office minister today.
Tory right-winger Philip Davies, MP for Shipley, warned ministers against jumping on the "Liberty bandwagon" and said the cameras were an important tool in the fight against crime.

Former Labour Home Office minister Meg Hillier accused the government of "fudging" when challenged over whether their plan would result in any cameras being removed.
In the coalition deal, the Tories and Liberal Democrats agreed to "further regulate CCTV" as part of their plans to protect civil liberties.

But Mr Davies said ministers should not follow the advice of civil liberties campaign group Liberty, who have long called for tighter regulation of CCTV.

At Commons question time he told crime reduction minister James Brokenshire: "CCTV cameras do not prevent anybody from going about their lawful daily business freely."

It was CCTV which identified the 7 July bombers, he said.

Mr Brokenshire said Mr Davies had underlined the "important role that CCTV has in terms of policing and in terms of protecting our communities".

But he said: "CCTV use has developed in the absence of a specific regulatory framework and we believe it is important in terms of proportionality that regulation is taken forward."
No, it wasn't the article, it was one of the reader comments at the bottom of the article:
"It was CCTV which identified the 7 July bombers, he said."

Aye, but it didn't prevent the bomb going off, did it?
I sincerely hope that was a joke.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Support for CCTV from Scottish MSP

My attention was caught by this snippet of debate from Fergus Ewing, Scottish National Party, today in the Scottish Parliament.

On Monday, I attended Strathclyde Police headquarters to look at the force's work on CCTV evidence at its digital media intelligence unit. In paragraph 1.1 of his report, Sheriff Principal Bowen says that one reason for the length of and increase in the number of cases is CCTV evidence. I am sure that members who have seen CCTV footage are well aware of its value in providing evidence to help to secure prosecutions, particularly for offences against the person.

When I visited Hamilton to view late-night work to tackle crime and antisocial behaviour, I saw a gruesome piece of footage. It showed a gentleman who, after a good night out, was waiting at a bus stop and decided to have a little sleep on the grassy embankment above it. Unfortunately for him, as the CCTV camera recorded all too graphically, while he was asleep he was stabbed repeatedly by two youths. After stabbing him time after time, they came back and had another few stabs—-presumably, just for more pleasure. Rightly, the CCTV evidence led to the conviction of those two individuals. I pay tribute to Assistant Chief Constable Ruaraidh Nicholson, ACC George Hamilton, Detective Sergeant Lorraine Anderson and all their colleagues, who do such excellent work in that regard.

CCTV is relevant as a factor in the process and is a great help in securing the objective that many members have described—an early plea. If those who have committed crimes are confronted at an early stage with incontrovertible evidence showing them, on film footage, that they have done so, it makes them somewhat chary of going to a trial, as CCTV cannot expire, die or fail to turn up.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Stars of CCTV

Mick Harrison, a man widely regarded in the CCTV industry for his knowledge and passion for CCTV, wrote this letter below to Jane's Police Review in April. It nicely sums up what many in the CCTV industry feel about the role of CCTV managers.


Stars of CCTV

After 30 years of policing service, the last 15 of them focussing on police CCTV matters, it is clear to me how undervalued public space CCTV managers are, by both the public safety partners they work with, and by their senior line managers. This applies to operations in both the private and public sector.

Many senior managers view their CCTV managers as technical geeks or general administrators, ensuring the operation runs 24/7, dealing with correspondence and handing over product to investigators whenever they request it. The CCTV manager's oversight role is sometimes viewed as a secondary responsibility.

What may not be generally appreciated is the critical role these local CCTV managers play in ensuring the checks and balances necessary to protect individuals from over zealous investigators, and that operational processes are followed correctly.

My work takes me to many CCTV control rooms. In most I see well-balanced operations with strong, independently minded CCTV managers in post, working in partnership with others to detect or reduce crime. However, they also accept that their primary responsibility is to protect individual privacy which we all, as members of the public, expect to be protected. This requires knowledge of key pieces of legislation, and robust and auditable operating procedures. But most importantly, it requires the confidence and interpersonal skills to occasionally say no to investigating officers, be they police, HM Revenue and Customs or trading standards.

If we are to continue to see public space CCTV operations across the country receiving the huge public support they presently enjoy, all of us must ensure the use of CCTV without local oversight does not become the norm

The independent control room manager is the firewall that denies the inappropriate use of CCTV, and the fulcrum, ensuring that all the checks and balances are operating correctly. These individuals need the understanding and support of their senior line managers, even if they occasionally refuse that same senior manager a request to use CCTV in an operation.

When such individuals are in place managing operations, I am personally quite comfortable to be monitored by CCTV cameras, confident in the knowledge that my safety and privacy are being protected. However, there is no statutory requirement for an appropriately empowered CCTV manager to be in place carrying out this function, and in these times of financial austerity these sorts of positions could be at risk.

If we lose them, we start to lose our privacy, and we take a step nearer to an Orwellian society.

You cannot properly operate public space CCTV on the cheap.

This is a personal view and may not be the view of Kent Police.

Mick Harrison, Kent

Monday, 21 June 2010

Birmingham puts camera plans on hold - at what cost?

Residents of two suburbs of Birmingham are up in arms over the installation of over 200 CCTV cameras in their area, and now the case is beginning to draw serious national attention.

I’ve spoken to a number of officials from Birmingham Council, the Safer Birmingham Partnership and the West Midlands Police.

One of them, speaking on condition that I didn’t identify him, said he feared for the future of CCTV in Birmingham and elsewhere in the country. “The decision that’s made will be significant in supporting future extension of CCTV or, indeed, calling a ‘high tide mark’ in terms of the continuing installation of CCTV.”

Tempers were running hot at two public meetings on the subject, and there was a real danger that residents with support from local councillors and MPs would have the system shut down altogether.

Given the situation, it’s perhaps politic that the three partners in the system met and decided to put the system on hold.

This will give them time to hold another round of consultations and defuse tensions in the area.

They promise to provide more information and consult more widely this time, to ensure that the public can voice an informed decision. I believe this will also provide time for a broader range of viewpoints to emerge, including those who feel that CCTV has an important role to play in community safety.

A reasoned debate?

It’s time for the voice of reason, moderation and sensibility to reassert itself in this debate.

There’s a lot of evidence that the outcry about CCTV in the area is based on poor information, with various people questioning the purpose or effectiveness of the cameras without having any idea of the operational requirements nor risk assessments which underpinned the decision to place the cameras there in the first place.

One resident asked, what good is it recording someone’s number plate? What are they going to do with that information? May I direct this individual to the ANPR page of the NPIA website?

Another view is that we should have more bobbies on the beat, not CCTV cameras. This line is frequently used by Big Brother Watch to attack CCTV, but even if you diverted the entire annual CCTV budget to the police, it would only be a drop in the bucket compared to the UK annual policing budget of £10 billion. Put another way, £3 million over the lifetime of a CCTV system (approx. 5 years) would get you an extra four or five police officers walking the beat. How can you compare that to the benefit of 200+ cameras watching the same area?

More residents questioned as part of a BBC vox pop ( said they think CCTV is a waste of money on their quiet road. One has to ask, are they aware of the operational requirements of the system? Perhaps as part of the public consultation they will learn more about it and re-evaluate their position.

Another resident voiced a concern about street lights being removed to make way for cameras. I find that hard to comprehend but if that is the case, that doesn’t sound right and the council should reconsider that decision.

However, it’s not all negative: three out of seven residents interviewed were supportive of CCTV. Two of the people, interviewed together, who expressed negative views were only opposed on the grounds that CCTV was “a waste of time on this road” because it was so quiet (see above).

Far from a groundswell of local opposition, it appears most of the noise is being made by a few vocal opponents supported by the usual cast of the national anti-CCTV party.

Counter terrorism

The hotspot in this case is the issue of counter-terrorism, with much of the ire directed against the Safer Birmingham Partnership for having accepted financial help from the Terrorism and Allied Matters (TAM) fund. Vocal opponents of the system say they feel they are being encircled by cameras.

It would appear that no questions were asked when the money was offered, but then if your local police forces gives you £3 million for your CCTV system, you might not ask too many questions, either. In hindsight, this was a mistake which jeopardises the future of the system.

This idea that the communities in Sparkbrook and Washwood Heath are being targeted because they are predominantly Muslim is troubling. If true, it would be cause for grave concern.

However, cameras may be entirely justified as a number of terrorist cases have been traced back to this area of Birmingham.

In July 2005, four men were arrested at two addresses in the area as part of anti-terror raids following the 7/7 attacks.

In 2007, nine men were arrested in the area over a plot to kidnap and murder a Muslim member of the armed forces. A year later, four men were convicted of offences stemming from this plot.

In January this year, police arrested a man in Sparkhill for possession of terrorism materials.

Rashid Rauf, an airline terror bomb suspect, was a pupil at Washwood Heath Technology School.

Meanwhile, a number of mosques in the area have been linked to radical preachers. In January 2007, the Despatches programme on Channel 4 showed radical preachers delivering hate filled lectures from the mosques. Although the leaders of those mosques were quick to condemn them, saying these preachers had only hired the halls and were not connected to the mosques, there is clearly a degree of support for violent Islamist views in the local community.

No matter how small the level of support for extremism there is – and the evidence is that support is very low indeed – the police have traced a number of cases back to these areas and identified the fact that there are violent Islamists in the area. The cases above are just the ones we know about.

If the police and security services believe we need CCTV in this area, should we allow local residents to overrule them? Are the civil liberties of those people more important than the civil liberties of the victims of future terrorist attacks?

If we could have stopped the 7/7 attackers by putting CCTV in their neighbourhoods, should we have done it?

UPDATE: In an article published on the BBC website, the director of Safer Birmingham Partnership is reported to have made similar points. At one of the public meetings, she said that there had been 11 convictions for terrorist-related activity in the area since 2007. She also said that the two areas' counter-terrorist profiles showed there are people living there with extremist links.