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 www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00t9rqt.

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.”

http://www.birminghammail.net/news/top-stories/2010/07/28/washwood-heath-residents-back-use-of-cctv-97319-26946202/

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 Scotsman.com. 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.

JANE'S POLICE REVIEW COMMUNITY - APRIL 30, 2010

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.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/birmingham/10337961.stm

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? http://www.npia.police.uk/en/10505.htm

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 (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/birmingham/10340962.stm) 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. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/four-arrested-in-birmingham-antiterror-raids-500389.html

In 2007, nine men were arrested in the area over a plot to kidnap and murder a Muslim member of the armed forces. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6315989.stm. A year later, four men were convicted of offences stemming from this plot. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7250697.stm

In January this year, police arrested a man in Sparkhill for possession of terrorism materials. http://www.birminghammail.net/news/top-stories/2010/01/27/birmingham-police-continue-to-question-terror-arrest-man-97319-25696177/

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. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/birmingham/10340730.stm

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Dear Readers,

May I draw your attention to chapter 6 of Assessing the Impact of CCTV (2005), a Home Office report into the effectiveness of CCTV?

http://rds.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs05/hors292.pdf

Written by Prof. Martin Gill and Angela Spriggs, the report is widely held up as "evidence" that CCTV doesn't work.

In Chapter 6, Conclusions: Reflections on the effectiveness of CCTV, the report states:

"It would be easy to conclude from the information presented in this report that CCTV is not effective: the majority of the schemes evaluated did not reduce crime and even where there was a reduction this was mostly not due to CCTV; nor did CCTV schemes make people feel safer, much less change their behaviour. That, however, would be too simplistic a conclusion..."

Why?

- Simply measuring crime rates is a poor measure of the effectiveness of CCTV. There are simply too many factors which complicate the analysis, not least the fact that the introduction of CCTV can lead directly to an increase in recorded crime.

- The role of CCTV in high profile cases is lost in overall crime figures, the police say. "The importance of the crime-fighting role that CCTV plays in this
way should not be underestimated."

- The report also, by its own admission, doesn't address the evidential value of CCTV, and police had a generally positive view of CCTV.

The most telling observation of his report is that we are still "learning how to use CCTV".

In my view, CCTV is very much a hit and miss affair at the moment, sometimes achieving tremendous breakthroughs, and other times disappointing the victims, the police, the criminal justice system, the media and the public by its failure to deliver the evidence.

It is shocking that 12 years after pouring significant sums of money into CCTV, the government doesn't have a system in place for counting the number of cameras in the country. What's even more shocking is that in all those years, the previous government failed to introduce a comprehensive system of regulation, so we are left with a piecemeal and not very reassuring patchwork of Data Protection, Regulation of Investigatory Powers, Human Rights and other such Acts to control it.

And the police! Where do I start? The police have failed spectacularly to formulate a comprehensive and strategic approach to the use of CCTV. There are isolated examples of best practice, but in the main it's catch-as-catch-can when it comes to using CCTV.

Investigating police officers are not trained to collect CCTV evidence. When viewing recorded images, many officers (not all, but quite a few) will concentrate on just one camera, ignoring the wealth of evidence that might be captured by neighbouring cameras. And that's in a CCTV control room, where the evidence is presented to them on a plate and there's technical support to guide them through the process; what happens out on the street where they are investigating an assault at a corner shop? Is this lack of curiosity, laziness or ignorance?

There are numerous and isolated examples of good practice within the police forces. Some have specialists to go and "sweep up" CCTV evidence for an investigation. Some units place liaison officers in the control rooms to improve communications and provide value intelligence. Many have given CCTV operators access to Airwave radio, but in some cases this was a long and hard fought battle and I believe there are still a few forces that continue to withhold this vital tool.

I know of only two police forces in the country that have a system for processing images from end to end: from collecting the images, to analysing their contents, to extracting ID shots and identifying the suspects. These are Cheshire Constabulary and the Metropolitan Police, but even the Met's approach covers only a limited number of boroughs.

I know of only two areas in the country where the police or local authority have attempted to count the cameras: Cheshire Constabulary (again!) and Salford. Cheshire revealed recently that in a county of approximately one million people, there are 300 publicly-owned CCTV cameras and 9000 which are privately owned but look over areas to which the public have open access (eg, interior and exterior of shops and petrol stations).

Cheshire Constabulary is notable for its use of CCTV, but then perhaps that has something to do with the fact that the deputy chief constable, Graeme Gerrard, is ACPO's lead on CCTV and a major driver behind the National CCTV Strategy.

Where does that leave CCTV? Despite the hodge-podge approach, CCTV continues to score impressive breakthroughs. In Bradford, CCTV is credited with an arrest after a man was apparently seen on camera killing a woman with a crossbow. Meanwhile on a daily basis, CCTV provides incontrovertible evidence which leads to suspects pleading guilty without the need to go to court. CCTV operators regularly provide police with invaluable evidence, real-time intelligence and visual backup, and there are many commendations issued every year for this assistance.

On the other hand, it comes as no surprise that CCTV is criticised when it fails to deliver the evidence, doesn't have strong partnerships with the police and can't even answer the basic question of how many cameras there are.

Should we condemn the entire enterprise because of this? I leave the final word to Gill and Spriggs: "Perhaps a balanced judgement of the success of any measure – and one that is not often discussed in crime-prevention evaluations – should be reserved for times when the measure is working to its full potential and is installed correctly and in the right place. How useful are lessons about the effectiveness of measures that are still not fully developed? There is no doubt, judging by the information presented here, that this country is still learning how to use CCTV."

There's more to this report, and if you haven't read it, I would urge you to download a copy from the Home Office website.

http://rds.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs05/hors292.pdf

~Tom Reeve

Monday, 14 June 2010

FBI video: How to do CCTV

Consultants, manufacturers and the CCTV User Group can bang on about image quality, system set up and user training until they're blue in the face, but leave it to the Americans to produce a lavish video to get the message across.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) - obviously getting fed up (giddit?) about bad video - has deployed the talents of Hollywood to dramatise the importance of installing a good system and maintaining it.

The video is built around a storyline of a domestic terrorist who's blown up a bus with a home-made fertiliser bomb. The FBI scrambles agents to retrieve CCTV footage that might help identify the perpetrator, but they are frustrated in their attempts by video that is so bad that you couldn't identify your own mother from it.

One of the characters asks the video lab technician, "Can you enhance that for me?", to which he replies: "Sorry, no - I'm not a magician and this isn't a TV show!"

Finally, they find a pharmacy which has an excellent CCTV system and luckily the system installer happens to be on site so he's able to download exactly what they need and provide them with a site plan, too!

Back at the lab, they quickly find a recognition quality shot (15 per cent screen) and moments later we see armed officers burst into a motel room and arrest the suspect. Talk about instant results!

The moral of the story is, your video system could help the FBI/police crack a terrorist case but only if it's up to scratch (no mention of it being your patriotic duty to maintain your system but the implication was there). OK, maybe a bit heavy-handed as storylines go but the script is engaging, the production qualities are fantastic and the narrator, Annie Wersching from "24", does the intro and conclusion, lending a bit of glamour and probably earning the undying gratitude of the FBI.

The video is well worth a look. If you write to them, they might even send you a copy of the DVD (can anyone say Transatlantic partnership?).



Hit tip to Simon Lambert, Kevin White and Ilker Dervish.

Meanwhile, I'd like to point out that Devon and Cornwall Police has also produced an excellent video about setting up CCTV in a pub or nightclub, entitled "Who are you looking at?". It's narrated by Prof. Martin Gill (OK, he's not Annie Wersching but he has gravitas, loads of gravitas) and benefits from high production qualities.

Hats off to Devon and Cornwall for producing this excellent video. They are happy to provide copies of the DVD in boxes of 50 copies for £100, ideal for distribution to pubs and clubs in your area. Contact Christopher Vercoe, tel. 01392-452691 or email christopher.vercoe@devonandcornwall.pnn.police.uk.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

CCTV vital in murder trial: The News (Portsmouth)

CCTV provided vital evidence in a murder trial, effectively discrediting the defendant's alibi.

Read the full story here: http://www.portsmouth.co.uk/newshome/CCTV-vital-in-murder-trial.6357898.jp

CCTV proved that for the defendant's alibi to be correct, he would have had to drive a distance of 1.06 miles in 7 seconds, or 545mph.

Thanks to Ilker for the tip.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Greater Manchester Police have issued CCTV of a man shooting at a house.



Now, I don't know if the video will lead directly to the identification of the perpetrators, but if they are arrested, it will help establish exactly what happened, how many shots were fired, when it occurred, and what type of vehicle they were driving. In the absence of any witnesses, this will prove very helpful.

Here's the other particulars that were issued with the footage:
  • The attack took place on Leonard Street on Sunday at 9:45pm.
  • The residents of the house were a 70-year-old man and his wife, who were watching television at the time.
  • Several shots were fired and a window was smashed in the attack but nobody was injured.
  • CCTV from the street shows a motorcycle stopping outside the house.
  • The pillion passenger is seen to approach the house and fire a gun, before jumping back on the motorbike, which sped off.
  • Police are appealing for anyone with information about the identity of the gunmen to call them on 0161 856 1722 or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

Helmet cams in Cornwall

This is an excellent story about police using helmet cameras in Devon and Cornwall, by Rowenna Davis at The Guardian.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2010/jun/09/police-head-cameras-antisocial-behaviour-cornwall

(So good, I wish I'd written it!)

Prime Minister Cameron reveals attitude toward CCTV?

An interesting exchange in the House of Commons recently helps to highlight the new Government's attitude toward CCTV.
http://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=2010-06-09b.322.2&s=cctv#g325.4

Harriet Harman (Leader of the Opposition; Camberwell and Peckham, Labour)

Before the election, the coalition parties talked about ending what they called the surveillance society. The coalition agreement said that the Government would further regulate the use of closed circuit television, but on Monday, the Home Secretary could not tell the House what that would mean in practice. Can the Prime Minister tell us now?

David Cameron (Prime Minister; Witney, Conservative)

… On surveillance, let me be clear that I support CCTV cameras. I have them in my constituency and they are very effective, and when I worked at the Home Office many years ago I championed such schemes, but I think everyone understands that the level of surveillance has become very great in our country. As well as the issue of CCTV, there is the issue of how many different sorts of officials are allowed to enter people's houses without permission. We will be bringing forward legislation to deal with that. I know that the Labour party has given up on civil liberties, and that the right hon. and learned Lady used to be head of what was the National Council for Civil Liberties-that was all a long time ago-but we on this side of the House think civil liberties are important.

Harriet Harman (Leader of the Opposition; Camberwell and Peckham, Labour)

May I ask the Prime Minister the question again, because I was asking not about people entering people's houses, but about CCTV? Can I tell him what Theresa was saying to me on Friday? [Hon. Members: "Theresa?"] Not the Home Secretary, but Theresa from the Poets Corner estate in my constituency. That Theresa is the one who knows about living on an estate that needs CCTV. Let me tell the Prime Minister that such people do not want to be told by this Government that it is going to be made harder to get the CCTV that they need on their estates. I press him on this because it is about people feeling, and being, safe in their communities. Will he guarantee that he will not do anything to make it harder to get or to use CCTV?

David Cameron (Prime Minister; Witney, Conservative)

The right hon. and learned Lady should understand that this is all about proportionality and making sure that we have a system that helps protect people while respecting civil liberties.
Bad news: No answer from the Prime Minister to reassure the public that they won’t make it harder for members of the public to get CCTV cameras where they are needed.

Good news: The Prime Minister acknowledged that:
  1. He supports CCTV
  2. CCTV is very effective in his constituency
  3. When he worked at the Home Office, he championed many schemes.
Before the election you couldn't get a straight answer out of the Conservative Party about CCTV and a search of the Internet for David Cameron and CCTV turned up no further clues. Perhaps they were trying to keep David Davis quiet.

Now, one month into the new Government and the Prime Minister reveals his true colours.

Oh it’s a bitter pill for our friends at Big Brother Watch to swallow. They were so hoping that the Government would row back on 16 or more years of development of CCTV. (A policy which, as the PM highlighted, was introduced by the previous Conservative government!)

BBW immediately dashed out this statement, attacking the PM's position on CCTV:

"It was very disappointing to see the Prime Minister soften his position on CCTV today. For the past decade, countless millions of pounds have been spent increasing the level of camera surveillance in this country, with no appreciable reduction in crime or increase in safety as a result. If the Coalition Government is serious about privacy and civil liberties, it will make sure that it tackles the public sector’s wasteful mania for CCTV as soon as possible."

Wasteful mania? More like, wise use of council funds to help support the police and focus resources on areas which need policing most.

You just can't argue with the facts: CCTV is effective; the public and the police like it; and councillors would be punished at the polls if they cut it.

CCTV saves the "crossbow cannibal"

Prison guard's casual glance at CCTV screen stopped the 'crossbow cannibal' from killing himself

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1285751/Guard-saw-crossbow-cannibal-Stephen-Griffiths-suicide-bid-CCTV.html?ito=feeds-newsxml#ixzz0qXCIZR5W

That's the headline in the Daily Mail website today.

Stephen Griffiths, 40, who is on remand for murder at Wakefield Prison in West Yorkshire was seconds from death when a prison guard saw on CCTV that he had tied a plastic bag over his head.

Ironic, then, that Griffiths - who was arrested after a caretaker of a block of flats witnessed a man attacking a woman while he was reviewing CCTV footage - was saved by CCTV.

Or another way of looking at it: officers investigating this case have had two incredibly lucky breaks as a result of CCTV. According to the Daily Mail report, detectives rushed to the prison when they heard the news and were "incandescent with rage", having devoted enormous resources to the investigation.

All I can add is, thank goodness for CCTV. It has provided two vital breaks in this horrific investigation.

This incident highlights the need for regulation of CCTV. We were incredibly lucky that the caretaker of the block of flats reviewed the tapes. There is no law that requires the owner of a CCTV system to review recorded footage, so thank goodness those procedures were in place at these flats. Perhaps this is an area that the government could look at when they are reviewing regulation?

Thursday, 10 June 2010

CCTV User Group: Local authorities cut CCTV at their peril

The CCTV User Group, the UK’s leading representative of the CCTV industry and its users and operators, is warning local authorities against slashing video surveillance in the coming round of budget cuts.

According to CCTV User Group estimates, there are approximately 33,000 CCTV cameras owned by local authorities in England and Wales, covering public spaces such as roads, shopping districts, parks and social housing.

With central Government threatening to cut awards to local authorities, councils may have to find 20 per cent or more in savings and may be tempted to target non-statutory services such as CCTV video surveillance.

However, with overwhelming public support for CCTV and the threat of rising crime which tends to follow periods of austerity and recession, councillors risk a backlash from their constituents if they start removing cameras.

“For a relatively modest investment in equipment and staff, local authorities provide an invaluable support to local police in controlling crime and social disorder,” said Peter Fry, director of the CCTV User Group.

The Group, which recently held its annual conference, is comprised of CCTV professionals from throughout the UK including managers and operators of CCTV systems, consultants, service providers and installers, as well as manufacturers.

Delegates to the conference were deeply concerned about the impact that cuts to CCTV would have on local crime and disorder. One CCTV manager, summarising the view of many, said that the debate boils down to one simple question for councillors: “Do you want to protect your residents?”

Local authorities understand that CCTV is in high demand by residents, and councillors are regularly asked for additional cameras to be installed.

Despite this support, there have been notable cases where CCTV cameras have been deactivated or even entire systems decommissioned, only to be forced to reinstall the cameras after complaints by local businesses and residents.


Act in haste, repent at leisure

Bournemouth was an early leader in the installation of CCTV in the UK. Five years ago it decided to remove ageing cameras along the seafront rather than replace them. The removal of the cameras was quickly followed by a rise in crime in the area and the council decided to fund the installation of new cameras.

The screens went blank in Lisburn two years ago when the local business group was unable to provide enough money to keep the system working. They appealed unsuccessfully to the PSNI to make a contribution and shortly after shut the system down. Crime soared when the cameras were switched off and the PSNI quickly found the funds to help restore the system.

* http://www.lisburntoday.co.uk/news/LISBURN-CCTV-SCREENS-COULD-GO.3825081.jp
* http://www.4ni.co.uk/northern_ireland_news.asp?id=74617

Turning systems off and back on again is not a simple matter, and a council may incur costs for contract terminations and decommissioning of equipment only to have to spend additional money to purchase new equipment and hire new staff.

“In this age of budget austerity, we cannot afford to waste money chasing imaginary savings,” Peter Fry said. “While it makes sense to look for savings where they can reasonably be found, CCTV should only be cut back after careful examination of the potential impact on local communities and businesses and in consultation with the local police.”

Police support for CCTV is in evidence throughout the country. In my experience of visiting numerous systems up and down the country, police are keen to work closely with local authority CCTV systems, providing access to Airwave police radios and databases, regular intelligence briefings and control room visits and even full-time officers based in the control room.

While it is essential to have officers on patrol, meeting local people and responding to incidents, bobbies on the beat can’t be everywhere and they can’t see around corners, whereas a CCTV operator will have access to numerous cameras and can jump from place to place to monitor an incident as it unfolds.

Local authorities must think carefully before they start cutting CCTV. What may look like an easy option to cut a line item from the budget may wind up costing them in terms of public support, money from the budget and crime on the streets.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Queen's Speech: CCTV in the crosshairs

CCTV was in the crosshairs today as the Queen revealed the Government's legislative programme.

One of the 22 Bills announced today is the Freedom (Great Repeal) Bill which among other things calls for the "further regulation of CCTV".

The Number 10 website gives some details about the Bill here including these points:
  • The main benefits of the Bill would include: "Protecting privacy by introducing new legislation to regulate the use of CCTV."
  • The main elements of the Bill include: "Further regulation of CCTV."
  • And existing legislation on CCTV is: "Data Protection Act 1998 and Regulation of Investigation Act 2000 (sic)". (Should be Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, but never mind!).
Follow the link to a copy of a speech by the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, and you learn more about the Government's intentions in this area (forgive the wordiness of the summation but I think a little context is important here):
  • Early in the speech, he refers to hard-won civil liberties which need protecting. "This government will end the culture of spying on its citizens. It is outrageous that decent, lawabiding people are regularly treated as if they have got something to hide. It has to stop. So, there will be no ID card scheme, no national identity register, a halt to second generation biometric passports. We will not hold your internet and email records when there is no reason to do so. CCTV will be properly regulated, as will the DNA storage database..."(It mystifies me why CCTV is lumped with DNA but that's a topic for another post).
  • According to Nick Clegg, CCTV quashes dissent and limits freedom. "Our democracy has suffered at the hands of encroaching centralisation and secrecy for decades. Take citizens’ rights: eroded by the quiet proliferation of laws that increase surveillance, quash dissent, limit freedom." (I would take the opposite view and say that CCTV helps protect the freedoms of the vulnerable and the law-abiding citizens by helping to identify criminals who make some people's lives unbearable).
Of course to find out the true intent of the Freedom Bill, one has to go to the LibDem website where you can find the original document. Since this is Nick Clegg's baby, and he has the support of the Prime Minister, we can assume that this will go into the Government's Bill largely intact.

The Freedom Bill says in part 2, Chapter 4 "Regulation of CCTV": "(1) A Royal Commission is to be established to make urgent recommendations on the use and regulation of Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) and the impact of CCTV on privacy."

This is elaborated on in the explanatory notes:
"Britain is the most watched society in the world. We have less than one per cent of the world’s population but a fifth of the earth’s CCTV cameras. In the Big Brother state that Labour has created, Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) is all pervasive. There are over four million CCTV cameras in Britain – one for every fourteen people and you can be captured on camera over three hundred times every day. In the 1990s, the Home Office spent 78 per cent of its crime prevention budget on installing CCTV and an estimated £500 million of public money was invested in the CCTV infrastructure in the last decade.

"CCTV is not the panacea for crime many would have us believe. Outside of CCTV being used to catch speeding drivers; in car parks and to deter other property crime, there is little hard evidence to demonstrate that CCTV works to prevent crime or to bring offenders to justice. A Home Office study concluded that “the CCTV schemes that have been assessed had little overall effect on crime levels.” And a lot of CCTV evidence is unusable in court. Yet CCTV cameras are increasingly prevalent across the country and the technology is becoming more advanced all the time. More and more cameras, for example, are now incorporating automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) software. It is staggering; therefore, that CCTV is essentially unregulated.

"The Liberal Democrats believe that before we sleepwalk any further into a surveillance society in which our every move is recorded, the use of CCTV should be publicly debated with a review to its full regulation. A recent report by the House of Lords concluded that the UK “leads the world” in the use of CCTV but despite this, there were “few restrictions” and no clear legal limit to their use. Increased use of ANPR has only heightened these concerns. Now is the time to act. The Liberal Democrats believe that a Royal Commission should be established to make urgent recommendations on the use and regulation of CCTV in a bid to protect privacy. Many local authorities, such as Cambridge City Council, have already done sterling work in producing codes of practice governing the use of CCTV. This would seem as good a place as any for the Royal Commission to start their investigation and to consider giving such codes statutory force."

Regulation of CCTV is on its way. This government has the votes and the will to do it, so the industry should begin lobbying now for a form of regulation that will work, rather than something that's designed to hobble owners and operators of CCTV systems who, at the end of the day, are simply trying to protect their customers, staff or property or, in the case of publicly owned systems, help the police to protect the public.

Registration: a first step in the regulation of CCTV

Regulation of CCTV is in the public gaze once again, with the Government set to regulate CCTV as part of their Freedom (Great Repeal) Bill (more on that later).

Surely one of the key planks of regulation has to be registration of CCTV systems and cameras nationally. In the same way that the Security Industry Authority (SIA) requires all personnel in licensable sectors to be registered, so they can monitor and control them, so would cameras and monitoring systems require registration in order to be controlled.

Some questions that have to be asked when proposing a national registration scheme are, Who would be responsible for collating that information and to what use would that information be put?
I think a reasonable purpose in gathering that information is to assist the police in identifying the location of cameras that could be potentially useful in investigating crime.
What if you required each police force to map the cameras in their area and required the owners of CCTV systems within that area to register their cameras with the police, on pain of a fine per unregistered camera? (Fines would not be automatic but only imposed after giving organisations a warning to comply).
To avoid it becoming a database nightmare for anyone to manage, you could create an online tool which enables organisations to register themselves and then declare the locations and retention periods of each of their cameras. It would take an organisation with a small number of cameras very little time to complete the task (30-45 minutes at most) and then all they would have to do is re-confirm the information on a regular basis (12 monthly?).
Police would then make quarterly returns to the CCTV regulator and/or the Information Commissioner and, voilĂ , you have a highly accurate camera count and map of the cameras (both public and privately owned) in the country.
In addition, the Regulator would then have a comprehensive database of CCTV owners to whom could be passed information on codes of practice, image quality, data protection, and so on.

Regulation is not a panacea for the industry: it won't make people spend more money to replace shoddy CCTV systems. It won't clean the dirty lenses on ancient cameras, it won't adjust the back focus nor improve the lighting. It's up to the owners of CCTV systems to do that, and the only thing that will get them to pay attention is greater education about the importance of installing and maintaining systems that are fit for purpose.

But one thing that regulation would do is enable the police and government to get that information out to CCTV system owners in a more efficient manner, ensuring that everyone with a system received regular updates on legislation, codes of practice and system management.

And the other thing that regulation would do is answer this perennial question of how many cameras we have in the UK and where they are located. If we had that, it would be an invaluable tool for investigators and put the UK firmly in the lead again in the use and management of CCTV systems.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Public support for CCTV is not waning

In spite of what the naysayers may say, public support for CCTV is not in doubt, as this three minute report from ITV shows.

ITV Central Tonight: CCTV Crime Tool

Monday, 12 April 2010

CCTV Image CI38 - April 2010 edition

Andrew Rennison, the interim CCTV regulator, has recorded the following introductory message.

The National CCTV Strategy Board has strategic ownership of delivery of the strategy and will report to the Home Office on progress.

A key part of the delivery mechanism is the appointment of an Interim CCTV Regulator and establishment of an Independent Advisory Group.
These are two distinct functions but with overlapping interests in helping to determine the direction and benefits of effective implementation of the strategy.
Background

In establishing the National CCTV Oversight Body and the independent CCTV Regulator (iCCTVR), the Policing Minister also announced the establishment of an Independent Advisory Group. The IAG will provide advice to the National CCTV Strategy Board and to the iCCTVR, monitor direction on implementing the national strategy, and responding to requests for advice from the Board and the iCCTVR.

Membership of the IAG should have representatives from business, CCTV operators, community and third sector groups. It is expected that that membership of the IAG will be fluid with a core group providing the majority of support, and other members of the Group being engaged on an ad hoc basis.

The Independent Advisory Group (IAG) has been set up to bring external and independent advice and guidance to the National CCTV Strategy Board and to assist in the effective implementation of the National CCTV Strategy. The role of the IAG is to assist the National CCTV Strategy Board in conjunction with the Interim CCTV Regulator to implement the National CCTV Strategy.
iCCTV Regulator

The role of the interim Regulator will be to work with the National CCTV Strategy Board on six key areas. These are to:

* develop national standards for the installation and use of CCTV in public space;
* determine training requirements for users and practitioners;
* engage with the public and private sector in determining the need and potential content of any regulatory framework;
* raise public awareness and understanding of how CCTV operates and the benefits to tackling crime and public protection;
* review the existing recommendations of the National CCTV Strategy and advising the Strategy Board on implementation, timelines and cost and development of an effective evidence base;
* promote public awareness of the complaints process and criteria for complaints to the relevant agencies (e.g. Information Commissioner, local authority, private organisation etc) and dealing with complaints relating to technical standards.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Criminal cash used to fund CCTV

I've often said that we need more cameras on the streets, not fewer. Now the police in Kettering (halfway between Peterborough and Coventry) are using money seized from criminals under the Proceeds of Crime Act to buy CCTV cameras for residents.

The article says £25,000 will be used to buy 700 cameras but I find that difficult to believe because that would put the price of the cameras at £35 each - maybe they're getting a bulk discount.

The cameras will be connected to residents' televisions and enable them to view the exterior of their house on one of the TV channels. They'll even be able to record it.

This sounds like a great idea, giving reassurance to vulnerable people or people who are just sick and tired of being harassed, but there are a number of things I worry about:

1. The cameras are being aimed at the residents' properties and not out into the main street "for privacy reasons". Well, so long as you aren't using a long lens to look in the windows of your neighbours across the road, there aren't any privacy issues, and you run the risk of missing some vital evidence.

2. While the cameras can be recorded onto VHS tape, that is presumably only on-demand recording so if there is an incident occurring, the resident has to have the presence of mind to dash over to the telly and turn on the video recorder.

3. Have the police given any thought to how they are going to respond as residents begin to ask them to come round and look at their videotape? Do they have the resources to cope with the potential flood of evidence that will be generated by this?

So, nice idea - certainly earns the police some brownie points - but I would like to see these questions ironed out in future.

- Tom Reeve, editor, CCTV Image magazine

Thursday, 14 January 2010

CCTV scam uncovered in Moscow

Moscow police have learned that a private company that was supposed to be monitoring CCTV cameras and passing video to the police were instead giving them faked video footage.

It is alleged that the scam was designed to cover up the fact that many of the cameras were either not working or had not been installed.

This report from RT.com has the details:





The company that monitors the cameras, StroyMontageService, is just one of several private companies that provide this service in Moscow.

According to RT.com, Moscow has more than 80,000 security cameras.

According to Axxon, a provider of video management software to the Moscow CCTV system, many of these cameras protect residents in publicly owned housing.

* Hat tip to Ilker Dervish for alerting me to this story.

UPDATE: This is turning into an interesting story. I'll see what else I can dig up and perhaps write it up for the February edition of CCTV Image.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Crime: CCTV question


There was a short debate in the House of Lords yesterday regarding CCTV.

It started with a question from Lord Craig of Radley: "To ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of the value of closed circuit television in fighting crime and securing convictions of offenders."

Lord West of Spithead - formerly the First Sea Lord (when this picture was taken) and now Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Security and Counter-terrorism), Home Office - replied that CCTV was known to work but the new CCTV regulator, Andrew Rennison, would be examining the evidence base.

Lord Craig asked about recent media reports (see below) which claim that the number of crimes solved in London due to CCTV had fallen from one in two to one in seven. "Does the remit of the new national CCTV oversight body have any regard to the cost-effectiveness and value for money of the considerable number of CCTV systems installed at
great expense by Her Majesty's Government?"

Lord West replied: "...from April 2007 to March 2008,
CCTV was used in 86 out of 90 investigations of murder and helped to solve 65 of them. The camera footage captured crime taking place or was used to track movements of suspects. In a third of those cases, witnesses were able to identify the murderer from it."

Later in the debate, Lord West mentioned he had conducted a private little survey of his own on the London Tube regarding CCTV. You can read the Press Association's write up here.

I can recommend the Lord's discussion - it's not long and it's very informative. It's here.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Toyota developing new night vision camera

Researchers working for car manufacturer Toyota are developing a new night vision camera that renders full colour images in near total darkness. By developing a new algorithm based on the night vision capabilities of the dung beetle (yes, those charming critters), they claim to be able to render fast moving images with a camera and graphics card.

You can read more about it at the New Scientist website here. (May require registration which is free).

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Bus robbers caught with help of CCTV

Without CCTV and audio recording on this bus, would these two thugs - who assaulted and robbed a bus driver - have been caught, prosecuted and convicted?

Criminals were apprehended and banged up long before CCTV was widely available, but cases often turned on witness statements which have to be weighed up and considered alongside testimony from the defense.

However, this image and the audio that went with it proved compelling evidence for the court. Not only did it show the severity of the attack, in which the bus driver was punched three times, it also recorded the audio of the robbers claiming they had a gun.

By supporting the victim's testimony, CCTV not only helps to prove the case but also assists the court in establishing an appropriate sentence, one that is commensurate with the actual severity of the crime.

In this case, the defendants were each sentenced to over three years in prison. What are the chances that if there hadn't been CCTV, and the court had had to rely solely on the bus driver's testimony, that the defendants would have got off with a much lighter sentence?

More details of the case here.

Telegraph bashes CCTV - again!

Happy New Year to everyone. It's nice to be back and what better way to kick off the new year than fending off another attack by anti-CCTV campaigners?

Article in today's Daily Telegraph - http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/crime/6867008/Number-of-crimes-caught-on-CCTV-falls-by-70-per-cent-Metropolitan-Police-admits.html

Metropolitan Police Service admits that CCTV is a load of old cobblers - OK, I'm paraphrasing, but the gist of the article is, the Met has changed the way it tabulates statistics about the use of CCTV and, according to the Daily Telegraph, this somehow proves that CCTV is pointless.

I won't go into all the deficiencies of this article - I'll just hit the highlights and you can read the rest at your leisure.

It says the number of crimes in which CCTV was involved in the Met fell while at the same time acknowledging that the method for recording the stats had changed as well. As any statistician will tell you, that automatically invalidates any comparisons.

The article then dregs up DCI Mick Neville's quote (taken out of context from a report about Operation Javelin) about 1 in a 1000 cameras, etc. But what's this? According to the Met's own statistics, which the article quotes, CCTV was involved in 121,770 criminal investigations in 08/09. If there are (allegedly) 1 million cameras in the capital, that works out to one crime investigated per 8.26 cameras. But of course even that's misleading because investigators frequently use more than one camera to investigate a crime, as you would expect, so if for instance they used an average of four cameras per crime, then 8.26 becomes closer to 2.0.

Of course, as a CCTV User Group member wrote recently, cameras are used for far more than just crime prevention and investigation - they are also used for public safety, finding lost people, traffic monitoring, fire detection, and so on. And the staff in the control room often do more than simply monitor CCTV, they also provide a vital link between the council and the community through Careline, for instance.

But I digress...

In the very next paragraph, the author acknowledges that one in seven investigations used CCTV (which sounds pretty positive to me) but he paints it as a failure because it fell from 1 in 2 in 03/04, even though he acknowledges that the method for tabulating the statistics had changed during that time period (I'm feeling a bit dazed and confused at this point!).

Although there is an unattributed comment from "Scotland Yard sources" which underscores the fact that the counting method had been changed, not once in the article has the Met Police or any other force been given the chance to put the figures into perspective.

The last half of the article reads like a random cut and paste job, cherry picking negative quotes from every anti-CCTV article ever written, until the author gets to the obligatory rebuttal at the end. Having spent 34 paragraphs slaughtering CCTV, he gives Simon Foy (head of Homicide and Serious Crime Command at the Metropolitan Police’s Specialist Crime Directorate - a person who should know something about the effectiveness of CCTV in criminal investigations) just one paragraph to reply!

At least Mr Foy gets the last word. LOL!

So Happy New Year to all of you. If this says anything about 2010, it is perhaps that we can look forward to much the same from the anti-CCTV lobby as we saw in 2009.