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London CCTV

The City of London Police (COLP) remit is to police the capital’s streets utilising intelligence.

With more American banking organisations than New York, and more Japanese banks than in Tokyo, London’s square mile represent a unique environment to secure, with quite exceptional threats to its day-to-day business activities.

Combating terrorism

In the early 1990s, the capital faced security threats whose nature was quite different to those it faces today, the large IRA detonations at the Baltic Exchange (1992) and Bishopsgate (1993) prompted a re-evaluation of the city’s security arrangements; as the resident large blue chip companies were becoming uneasy with the terrorist threat to life and property.

The cost to repair the damage to the Bishopsgate attack was more than £1 billion, and with the focus of those campaigns being to cause as much damage to infrastructure as possible, big businesses were being forced to consider the option of relocating elsewhere, creating significant pressure for effective counteraction to the prevailing climate from the authorities.

At this time, an initial CCTV surveillance system was already in place, consisting of a number of PTZ cameras. The main task of this basic early system was to monitor traffic flow as, at the time of its inception, the concept of CCTV as a tool to combat terrorism and general crime was not greatly developed. Following the IRA bombings, the focus of the system was changed, developed over a number of years and with staged expansions to consist of over 100 cameras, taking in surveillance of all areas of the The City, including the banks of the river Thames.

Superintendent Andrew Mellor of COLP says of the decision to use CCTV: "The system worked to combat the terrorist threat, especially in the 1990’s when the danger from the IRA was at it’s highest. Terrorists don’t just turn up and commit their attacks, these operations are preceded by months of planning and reconnaissance. A key to preventing these attacks is the detection and disruption of this reconnaissance activity. CCTV can instantly provide visual coverage of an area. Police constables on every street corner are an expensive way to secure a city, and are not an efficient deployment of resources. CCTV is a highly effective alternative and can provide the eyes for a police force. Although the expanded CCTV system has been developed as an anti-terrorist weapon, it has had a consequent, and beneficial, impact on general crime within the Square Mile. At the time that the CCTV system was expanded, armed robberies were a weekly occurrence in the City of London. The moment the system was installed, and marketed, these instances stopped; one could only assume that the thinking criminal thought that the odds of being caught (or worse) in the City was now too great!"

Today, the system continues to be concentrated around The City’s entry and exit points and forms the ‘Ring of Steel’ around the capital’s financial heartland. Comprising CCTV ‘checkpoints’ at each vehicular entry and exit point, the system is thought to boast the largest concentration of ANPR cameras in the UK.

Supt Mellor says: "This ensures no one can drive north, south, east or west in The City without their vehicle being identified by our ANPR system. The ANPR enhanced cameras collect registration number information as well as identifying any front seat passengers in a particular vehicle. The ANPR points are also equipped with a dedicated PTZ camera to further investigate an issue raised by the ANPR, or to follow a target vehicle into or out of the City. This holistic approach stems directly from the Force’s intention to maximise any and all resources, and utilise the best technology to provide the most effective evidence."


Reinforcing this intention, when the time came to upgrade the control system for the ever-expanding installation, the COLP embarked on an exhaustive test program to select the best control solution for them. Supt Mellor describes the process: "We tested a wide variety of systems from a number of different manufacturers. As the trials progressed, it became clear that our multi faceted system was going to be best served by a Synectics control solution. Our experienced operators citing the intuitive nature of its human interface and ease-of-use of the SynergyPro control system as the most crucial factor in their choice."

This operation of SynergyPro has produced multiple benefits for COLP. Supt Mellor adds: "The straightforward control and retrieval of data has led to the required amount of operator training time being reduced, along with its associated costs. It has also allowed us to easily train a greater amount of our force to use the system without the usual associated amount of financial investment. From PC’s on the beat, through to myself as superintendent, we have over 300 members of the COLP team trained to use the system."

In addition to the main control room, Synectics SynergyPro positions are deployed around police stations citywide. This allows officers access to evidential video of an incident they themselves may have been involved in.

"Effective CCTV monitoring of our streets not only protects the public but can also protect our officers," continues Supt Mellor; "Our arresting officers can be confident in their actions, knowing that each one is captured in high-resolution encrypted digital video, downloadable for evidence if necessary. This can avoid potentially costly false allegations being brought against COLP patrolling officers. If false allegations are made, they are soon dropped when evidential video of an arrest is revealed, saving valuable court time and public money."

Supt Mellor says: "The great benefit of the SynergyPro system’s intuitive control is that our officers can use it effectively after only minimal training. One thing I have learnt in my experience with CCTV control systems is that like any other electronic product, they are only as good as their user interface. A product can have thousands of features, but if the user cannot access them easily and intuitively, then they will not be used. This is where our Synectics system excels, allowing the COLP team to instinctively access and take advantage of all its powerful features. This intuitive control even extends to its use in court, allowing simple demonstrations of evidence to juries and affording them an understanding of how the video evidence was gathered, leading to a more effective prosecution."

With a total of five SynergyPro workstations deployed in the COLP control room, operators can access and control all the installation’s 100 cameras. Supt Mellor: "Due to the nature of a staggered expansion of the legacy system, the COLP installation consisted of cameras from a number of different manufacturers. When specifying a control system, we confidently selected the Synectics solution in the knowledge it would communicate with our mix of legacy cameras."

The operator shift system in the COLP control room works with five groups rotating around a five-week system. The group of operators always contains an inspector and a sergeant accompanying the control room staff, with any leave being absorbed into the five-week system. Each shift change in the control room mirrors that of the patrolling group, this allows each operator shift to become familiar with their own patrolling groups and vice versa.

COLP’s control facility also has a ‘special operations’ room. Equipped with another four SynergyPro control positions, the room is used during incidents such as large demonstrations, ceremonial events, or any event in The City that requires a larger number of foot patrol officers and therefore, more system operators to support them. This can be particularly effective during events such as the spectacular Lord Mayor’s Show, which attracts a crowd of 500,000. The largest policing event in the force’s calendar, over 1000 officers are involved, during, and after the event.

With the assistance of the Synectics’ SynergyPro technology, the COLP operators can be confident of securing effective surveillance at such events, and the successful tracking of any incident that may arise. Using Synergy’s ‘Incident’ (in progress) feature, operators can, during the course of tracking ‘live’’ events on- screen, create a fully documented audit trail of any incident. The ‘Incident’ feature also locks-out other operators from using a specific ‘live’ camera in use during the crucial incident tracking period. The date, along with start and finish time for each event is stored automatically within the evidential video created, and tagged with a full audit trail of information, indexed to the operator’s initials. This allows the COLP team to be confident that when tracking events, their actions are being recorded and fully documented for future reference, if required, for evidential purposes.

Prioritised ‘Supervisor’ access permits the post-tracking of a particular event, to determine which cameras were used to view an incident, how and when they were moved, the sequence of camera switching, and which control room operator was controlling them at that time – a powerful document feature should the need arise for prosecutional evidence from the tracked incident.

Recoding technique

COLP’s remit to ‘use the best technology to provide the best evidence’ wasn’t best supported by the tape-based recording system it originally employed. Following the control upgrade, Supt Mellor initiated a scheme to upgrade to a full digital solution, he says: "When we were examining the market for different recording solutions, there was a great deal of nervousness around selecting a solution ourselves. With no harmonised format for guidance, we contracted the services of four IT consultants to assist us validate each tendering company’s bid. From this process, Synectics were again selected to supply the equipment, on production of a competitive and feature-laden tender bid, one with which we were confident of successful integration into our system, which contains many third-party suppliers equipment."

Recording all the system’s 140 cameras, 24 hours, is Synectics’ Modular Digital Recording System (MDRS) review client technology. This provides instant access to the valuable camera images, as well as downloadable evidence to other media, for presentation in court.

Synectics’ MDRS incorporates the patented Time Lapse Later (TLL) recording technology. This allows COLP to capitalise on the benefits of real-time recordings made at the start of the recording process and enabling operators to choose recording strategies that match the risk profiles of individual cameras; based on events or time, rather than compromising on a fixed ‘time-lapse only’ strategy.

With TLL in operation, the automatic intelligent redistribution of the digital storage capacity available allows the benefit of any, or all COLP cameras to be recorded in real-time. Automatically recording each camera, enabling highly detailed, broadcast quality images to be captured at the very start of the recording process ie when it is liable to contain the most ‘evidential value’. Only later, after a 96-hour period is time-lapsing introduced; to reduce the frame rate of the stored digital video evidence down to eight frames/second for the remaining 27 days, and correspondingly, reduce the storage capacity required for its retention.

Crucially for COLP, unlike with standard digital recording systems, Synectics reports that the TLL recordings employ very high-pixel count images, measured in Common Interchange Format (CIF). Typically 4CIF, these recordings are four times more detailed (by pixel count) than those commonly offered, permitting more detailed recognition and incident content; a crucial factor in the presentation of key evidential information, it is claimed.

The 100 cameras of the COLP installation create a huge amount of visual information to process and retain. To address this, the COLP control room uses SynergyPro’s ‘Evidence Locker’ management feature. A server configured to handle and store video evidence, the Evidence Locker provides a central point for evidence management.

Providing a managerial audit trail, all usage is logged onto a database. For future authentication purposes, a unique 128-bit MD5 hashing encryption code is created with every minute of video footage. If a copy of footage is required to be taken off-site or downloaded by a COLP investigating officer, the system saves the video clip and evidence’s hashing code, logged and detailed in the form of a ‘Digital Evidence Certificate’ to prove its legitimacy.

"Utilising Synectics storage for all our evidential video means the data from the system’s cameras is extremely safe," says Mellor; "Using all the Synectics/IBM storage nodes, the data is spread throughout the system, meaning in the unlikely event of a node failure, all data of a particular camera feed is not lost."

Mellor adds: "We have limited resources, it’s important to gain the maximum benefit from each purchase we make. Choosing Synectics as a key technical partner has allowed us to continue the fight against crime in the City of London. Their technology pays dividends in a number of ways; firstly it provides a constant street presence, and in the hands of our experienced operators effectively provides the city with a virtual policeman on each corner. Secondly, it greatly simplifies retrospective investigations, allowing investigating officers instant access to crystal clear images of an incident, without the need to trawl through hours of videotape. This greatly compresses investigation times and saves public money by getting criminals off the streets quicker, limiting the amount of further crimes they can commit."

In the aftermath of 7/7 bombings, Supt Mellor and his team had amassed over 24 hours of potentially key video footage from each camera on the COLP system. "It was a full review scenario for our system," he says; "A true test that the system past with flying colours. Assisted by the Synergy technology, we were investigating a complete day of footage from every camera. The technical capability of our Synectics based surveillance system was underlined when we were able to efficiently trace all vehicular movements of those involved in the incident."

The system was originally designed to prevent vehicle-based devices being detonated in the city against infrastructure targets, causing huge amounts of structural damage and loss of life. Its focus however, has now changed with the changing pattern of terrorism. As demonstrated by 7/7, the threat from explosive devices now includes the suicide bomber; broadening the variety of security threats, that requires an equally wide range of skilled operator techniques to combat them.

COLP’s skilled operator team communicate to patrolling officers via the Airwave/Tetra system. This system allows seamless, interference free communication between the control room and the patrolling officers, besides officer-to-officer. The system also allows communication from outside the COLP district, should an incident move outside the Square Mile.

Supt Mellor sees his force’s commitment to CCTV surveillance going beyond the instigation and maintenance of their own system, to encompass private based systems too: "We have dedicated officers who can act as security consultants to local business’, he says; "checking the efficiency of their systems, ensuring they are getting the correct and most economical scene coverage and helping with advice on economical upgrades, proper maintenance and camera placement if necessary. This is to ensure maximum coverage for the City of London as a whole, in an effort to ensure best practice within all surveillance systems in the City.

Securing The City

"I believe schemes such as this are of great importance and in London, and the UK as a whole, effective CCTV surveillance is becoming more and more accepted as part of everyday life. This is a bye-product of the different way our police force is viewed compared to those of other European countries; In the UK, the traditional perception of policing is usually one of citizen policing citizen, this perception extends into the area of public surveillance. However this perception is much different in other European countries, where the police force is seen as a State controlled body, and the associated surveillance systems as the State monitoring its citizens."

COLP operators deal with a variety of incidents on a daily basis in and around the country’s premier real estate. Since the introduction of the Synectics MDRS system, numerous road traffic accidents have been resolved with the aid of high-resolution footage of the incidents. "The parties involved often describe a vastly different series of events," says Supt Mellor: "The subsequent court proceedings of most cases, are quickly resolved on production of the high-quality MPEG4 encrypted evidence we generate from the MDRS system."

Major thefts have also been prevented. Such an instance involved an armed raid on commercial premises, where a gang made off with £30,000 in cash, in a stolen taxi. Witnesses at the scene passed the taxi’s number plate information to COLP officers. Using the CCTV system to its full advantage, operators were able to track the vehicle’s progress through the city while directing traffic units who located and stopped the vehicle. The gang was arrested, and the money and weapon they were carrying recovered.

Another firearms incident was also prevented, when, following an ANPR alarm, officers were alerted to a motorist wanted for firearms offences. Directed by control room staff, armed units stopped the vehicle, where the suspect was arrested and a loaded handgun recovered from the car, along with illegal drugs.

Assisted by the surveillance technology, the COLP team often employ techniques and professional intuition to spot suspicious situations. Superintendent Mellor cites an example: "One of our operators identified a van making a U-turn in the road, obviously to avoid driving past one of the ANPR camera units. Working closely with the control room, patrolling units stopped the van and discovered a large amount of controlled substances for distribution. The driver was also found to be a prisoner on day release."

The COLP team also experience members of the public endangering themselves, the most extreme example of which was a lady swimming in the Thames as Steve Phillips, Control Room Inspector says: "Our operators were able to monitor the swimmer in the water, and alert the police river units to her position. Swiftly on the scene, officers were able to extract the swimmer from the water, as she was beginning to get into difficulties. The outcome may have been very different if it was not for our experienced officers, assisted by the powerful CCTV technology at their fingertips."


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