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.


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? 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?


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..."


- 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.


~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.


(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.

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


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.