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CCTV Strategy

A database of all CCTV schemes in the UK and a ‘mechanism’ to allow CCTV standards to be enforced are proposed in an official report.

The database might contain location of cameras, their coverage, their intended purpose, equipment details, details of the registration with the Data Protection Act, and owner details. “This would enable an authority charged with inspection to quickly and accurately identify non-compliant systems and take action to enforce compliance,” according to the report.

More effective funding for public space CCTV, and a body responsible for the governance and use of CCTV in the UK, are among other recommendations of a long-awaited ‘national CCTV strategy’.

The Home Office and ACPO strategy airs the idea of the Security Industry Authority (SIA) and Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) running a registration or inspection scheme for CCTV. The strategy calls for greater powers for the Information Commissioner to enforce CCTV licensing requirements of systems and people. According to the report there are ‘significant issues around licensing’ of CCTV operators by the SIA. Although the report does not go into more detail, when speaking generally about regulation of CCTV the report speaks of ‘widespread concern about the inadequacies of current legislation in place to address the shortcomings around enforcement’. Later the report does say that the SIA operator licence has raised training standards, but suggests that the licence remit (it’s only for contracted-in operators) is ‘not as wide as is necessary to raise standards across the board’, with police users, for instance. The report (in as many words) raises questions whether in-house operators and installers of CCTV should have a licence, speaking of ‘gaps’ to fill.

And the report suggests a ‘National CCTV Strategy Programme Board’ made up of the Home Office, Association of Chief Police Officers, ICO, National Policing Improvement Agency, Ministry of Justice, Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), Local Government Association, Department for Transport, BSIA and SIA.

Other recommendations include agreed standards: for CCTV image retention and disclosure guidance; ‘national key performance indicators relating to the use of public space CCTV’; and digital CCTV standards and digital video formats for public space CCTV, police, and court use. Also recommended: clear advice to CCTV operators on police and CPS requirements from CCTV systems to maximise successful prosecutions. Because as the report puts it, most CCTV footage given to police, if intended to identify a suspect, is useless, or as the document more politely puts it, ‘far from ideal’. As the report points out, viewing takes up police time: “Unfortunately, police officers cannot tell whether the CCTV is of no evidential value until they have recovered and viewed it.” Even so, the police have not worked how best to use CCTV footage given to them, or as the report politely puts it, police have ‘yet to establish the most appropriate way of managing the specialist staff required’.

The 56-page document available on the Government’s crime reduction website (www.crimereduction.gov.uk) concludes: “We can see that the funding issue is a serious threat to the future of CCTV, whether it affects the installation of cameras in areas that currently do not benefit from CCTV, or its expansion and growth into the type of network that has been suggested by the previous chapters, or how it is used by the police or within the CJS [criminal justice system]. It will be an important factor from beginning to end. The effectiveness of CCTV schemes cannot be properly assessed by the direct relation to crime statistics alone. CCTV is effective in supporting other activities relating to crime reduction and the potential cost savings down the line in relation to savings in police time, increased detection rates, court time and the increased level of guilty pleas and guilty verdicts obtained when CCTV evidence is available. However, a standard method has to be found to capture this information, and a method of promoting the successes of CCTV locally, (which may then lead to a reduction in crime/deter criminals) and improve public perception of CCTV and at local and national levels to underwrite business cases and provide continuing funding and improvements. There is no single body that has responsibility and is accountable for CCTV in this country. Equally, there is no single body that can set performance standards and indicators, undertake reviews, improve standards, and determine where public money is best used.” By contrast, police spend far more on fingerprints and DNA. The report admits a complaint of town centre CCTV managers that whether local police co-operate with the council control room depends on the local police commander. The report later suggests more networking of CCTV systems, specifically a ‘strategic network of CCTV cameras to assist in the policing of key economic sites and the investigation of major and terrorist incidents’, maybe with an eye to the 2012 Olympics.

Why a CCTV strategy at all? Local authorities and others such as police procured different systems at different times and with a range of different specifications, leading to a mix of schemes across the country. In other words, ‘there is a wide variance in terms of coverage, monitoring, quality of images, uses and therefore the impact that CCTV can have on local crime and disorder’. And digital CCTV brings opportunities – if ‘harnessed correctly’ – and its own difficulties. Work on the review began in January 2006 and saw meetings with among others the PCMA (Public CCTV Managers Association) and its London borough equivalent the LCMG for town centre CCTV managers; and the CCTV Users Group.

In a foreword, Home Office minister Tony McNulty says that CCTV enjoys considerable public support and it is important that this is maintained. He describes CCTV as an important tool in the Government’s crime-fighting strategy. That said, as the document soon points out, central Government cash directly for public space CCTV ran between 1994 and 2003. “As a result of this funding, more than 680 CCTV schemes were installed in town centres and other public spaces. Despite the long timeframe and hundreds of millions of pounds put into public space CCTV, the strategy cannot even say how many cameras are out there, if they are deployed and covering the correct areas, if the images they produce are fit for purpose and whether the cameras are being used effectively.

The end of the Crime Reduction Programme signalled the end of a dedicated central funding regime for public space CCTV. However, local areas continued to have access to Home Office grant monies in the form of general funding for crime reduction through funding streams such as Communities Against Drugs (CAD), Safer Communities Initiative (SCI), the Building Safer Communities Fund (BSCF)and the current joint Home Office/ Department for Communities and Local Government initiative, the Safer Stronger Communities Fund (SSCF), as well as wider funding opportunities, for example that given by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) under arrangements for neighbourhood renewal and similar schemes.”

Some history: in April 2005, the ACPO CCTV/Video Working Group suggested to the Home Office such a strategy, but 7-7 showed up difficulties with using CCTV – varying quality of images, and difficulty in retrieving digitally recorded footage.

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