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The Mayor of London Boris Johnson has proposed to give the Met Police access to Congestion Charge automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) road cameras in the capital.
While Johnson hailed this as helping police in crime fighting and public safety, it left unsaid the change in purpose to public space CCTV risked loss of public goodwill, whether the original purpose was crime prevention or not. Similarly in the February print issue of Professional Security the issue of local government use of CCTV against parents parking outside school was covered.
The ANPR cameras allows identification of vehicles, such as stolen cars or vehicles involved in crimes, and data from these cameras has already played a role in solving a number of serious crimes in London, Johnson says. He says that he wants to enable the Met to catch more criminals on the capital’s roads by delivering on his 2012 manifesto to allow the force routine access to Transport for London’s 1300 ANPR road cameras.
The Met already collects ANPR data by using their own limited network of cameras to investigate crimes and to intercept vehicles that have been linked to crime. ANPR data was crucial in identifying and bringing about the conviction of the five young men responsible for the murder of 16 year old Hani Abou El Kheir in Pimlico in January 2013. In September 2013, it was used to trace and arrest the occupant of a car who had allegedly attempted to abduct a child.
Gaining access to TfL’s cameras – which enforce London’s Congestion Charge and Low Emission Zone – will triple the coverage available to the Met. Seeking to answer the charge that the state is taking ANPR for a use not intended when introduced, Johnson said that the police will ensure that this data is only used in the public interest and there are safeguards enforced, to guard against misuse and a ‘surveillance state’.
The Mayor’s Office for Policing And Crime (MOPAC) is launching ‘public engagement’ to explain the proposed changes and to find out Londoners’ views so that the Met can take steps to address any concerns. From February 11 until 8 April 2014, Londoners can give their views by visiting Talk London at www.talk.london.gov.uk.
Boris Johnson saw the ANPR cameras in action on the A21 in Orpington, during a visit to Bromley, where he also met with young people from the local Youth Offending Team. He said: “I want London to be the safest big city in the world and, to help us continue to drive down crime, we need to use technology in a smart way. Opening up access to TfL’s extensive network of cameras will enable the Met to track down more criminals and crack down on more crimes.”
Neil Winterbourne, Detective Superintendent said: “Over the next two months there is a chance for Londoners to find out more about how the Met uses ANPR to fight crime. The Met has put a lot into ANPR over the last two years and the progress we have made is fantastic, but without TfL camera data our ability to combat crime all over London will be severely reduced. We think that the results speak for themselves, more arrests, more seizures of uninsured vehicles and more cases solved with ANPR.
“We don’t need and can’t afford two of everything, so we think the Met and TfL should co-operate to get the most out of ANPR cameras the public have already paid for. We also want to listen to concerns people have. We welcome the opportunity to be more transparent and to explain just how tightly we manage our access to and use of this data. We hope this will give people the confidence and reassurance they need.”