The mapping exercise would allow police to find out how many cameras are working and capable of providing images of a high enough standard to identify suspected criminals.
They are used to walking the beat to deter crime but the police may soon be asked to cover every nook and cranny of their patch — to locate and record the presence of every CCTV camera.
Senior officers want several forces to count the cameras in an attempt to provide an accurate figure of the number across the entire country.
The exercise comes amid claims that the proliferation of CCTV cameras is turning Britain into a surveillance society. Yet it has emerged that one of the figures most frequently used to justify the claim — that there are 4.2 million cameras — is an estimate based on a survey of only two streets in London seven years ago.
The mapping exercise would allow police to find out how many cameras are working and capable of providing images of a high enough standard to identify suspected criminals. A Home Office report in 2007 said anecdotal evidence suggested that more than 80per cent of CCTV footage supplied to the police was far from ideal.
CCTV is almost completely unregulated and there is pressure on the Government to introduce controls. The Government is planning to create a voluntary body to oversee the governance and use of CCTV in the country but has stopped short of statutory regulation and inspection of cameras.
Vernon Coaker, the Home Office Minister, said: “We are currently considering how this will be done to ensure CCTV systems are effectively overseen and bring together evidence of good practice.” He did not say whether this would involve the registration of every CCTV system or camera in Britain.
It is impossible to know how many CCTV cameras there are. The Information Commissioner does not know, the Home Office does not know, the police do not know. Graeme Gerrard, Deputy Chief Constable of Cheshire and the Association of Chief Police Officers spokesman on CCTV, said: “We are going to try some mapping exercises to try to give a better idea of how many cameras there are in the country. It will mean physically knocking on doors to discover if premises have a camera.”
Since the Nineties, when installing cameras in town centres was seen as vital to crime prevention, hundreds of millions of pounds have been invested in CCTV schemes. Between 1994 and 2003 the Government provided £200million for 1,265 schemes in public spaces. Transport for London uses 10,000 CCTV cameras on its rail network, stations, road and buses. In 2002 there were 260 cameras monitoring the Houses of Parliament. Today, no shopping mall, supermarket, shop or industrial estate would be without its own CCTV system. Many people question whether these systems are worth it. Yet pictures from CCTV provided police with valuable information at the time of the terrorist attacks in London in July 2005. They also led to the capture of the Brixton nail bomber David Copeland. However, looking for the right image can be a time-consuming exercise. In the case of Copeland, police spent 4,000 hours viewing 1,097 CCTV tapes.
The most effective systems are usually those in town centres, large stores and shopping malls. These normally provide a standard of image that allows police to identify suspects. Other systems are not so helpful.
Mr Gerrard said that some premises placed their cameras in corners, which meant that they would be able to capture the tops of heads but not faces. Others were of limited value in poor light. “You need a pretty sophisticated camera to capture a good quality picture in the dark,” he said.
He said that installing cameras helped to reduce the fear of crime, but research suggested mixed results for actually cutting crime.
CCTV reduced crime in car parks and shops but was less successful in curbing disorder and anti-social behaviour in public spaces. Mr Gerrard said: “Just because there is surveillance does not mean someone who is fuelled up with alcohol will not get involved in disorder.
“CCTV is less effective in preventing people from being stupid but it is very effective in alerting police early to trouble occurring and allows us to get there earlier to try and stop it.”
There is no statutory or legal obstacle to installing CCTV cameras. The only obligation on those who install them is that they must meet the terms of the Data Protection Act in areas such as handling, storage and processing of the images obtained.
In 2007 a Home Office report recommended legislation that would allow authorities to inspect CCTV systems and create a database of private and public CCTV schemes. So far the most that has happened has been the Government’s promise of a body to oversee the use of CCTV.
The House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution called for statutory regulation of CCTV and an independent appraisal of existing research evidence on the effectiveness of the cameras in preventing, detecting and investigating crime.
Shami Chakrabarti, the director of the civil rights group Liberty, said: “Like all sorts of technology, we need to know where it is sited, how much it costs and whether it is actually preventing or detecting crime.”
Full article and photo: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/crime/article5859923.ece
The strange case of the surveillance cameras
According to statistics, the average citizen is caught on CCTV cameras 300 times a day. (BBC News)
This is the story of a statistic; it is sort of a detective story.
The mystery stat was sitting on one of our Times blogs and read “the average Brit is caught on security cameras some 300 times a day” and, God knows why, I just decided to chase the number down and find out where it came from. The colleague responsible for the blog referred me to a couple of news stories, and to a document issued by the office of an important and newsworthy quango.