Candid cameras. Does CCTV actually work?

May 6, 2008

cctv.jpgA senior detective has questioned the effectiveness of CCTV, saying it helps solve only a tiny minority of street crimes and that its use has been an “utter fiasco”.

Detective Chief Inspector Mick Neville, head of the Metropolitan police’s division on visual images, identifications and detections, wants better training for police officers in using CCTV, more sophisticated technology and a national database to allow offenders to be tracked and identified.

Britain is the surveillance capital of the world, with one camera for every 14 people according to civil rights groups, and billions of pounds has been spent on setting up systems.

Last year the Home Office, which has ploughed millions into CCTV projects, itself questioned the effectiveness of some systems as the footage they provided was not good enough to be used as evidence in court.

CCTV has always proved to be a divisive issue with some people believing they represent the growth of a “Big Brother” society. However, many communities have welcomed them with open arms, hoping they will deter criminals and vandals.

Are the cameras a waste of money and an infringement of civil liberties? Or are they a vital deterrent? Send us your comments.


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DCI Neville should be applauded for his comments, not because they have unwittingly stirred up a controversy here in the U.K., but simply because they are factually correct.Public Space CCTV has historically developed along the lines of “lottery surveillance” using ‘Active’ systems, which are inherently highly inefficient in providing vital evidential recordings to support criminal investigations.The greater need for ‘Passive’ use of video surveillance technology, has politically been deliberately overlooked, to the extent that modern Town Centre CCTV schemes, are seriously (and it could be argued fatally) constrained by the way in which they have been designed and deployed.Is this a sudden revelation; well to be brutally honest … absolutely not!!The shortcomings in current CCTV deployment have been well understood for almost twenty years, but unfortunately it is not politically expedient to admit that successive governments have thrown vast sums of money into promoting the nationwide adoption of a hugely powerful technology, which has thus far been applied with almost total naivety and a common lack of understanding for the fundamental operational objectives.Significant improvements in operational efficiency could easily be made, if more limited funding were made available to target affordable improvements, rather than wasting scarcely available resources on yet more questionable media attractive techniques such as “Talking CCTV”, or funding still further research that produces conclusions that were well understood by some, over a decade ago.Until there is a wider understanding of how CCTV should be appropriately deployed, no significant improvements will be made in operational efficiency, without accepting a very costly reliance on emerging computer based technologies.

Posted by Doktor Jon | Report as abusive

I was a police officer in London for 15 years, and a detective for 12 of them. I used CCTV footage successfully once to convict a suspect (although I already knew who he was, it was used as corroboration), but I certainly wasted 100s of hours of time looking at uselessly grainy, blurry films because it ‘was the new technology’.It has been a spectacular failure on all fronts.

Posted by smith | Report as abusive

Now we know that the only sucess with CCTV has been taxing or fining the car owner, and that will be good enough to continue to deploy them as far as Brown is concerned

Posted by Alan Rogers | Report as abusive

My friend was convicted of littering due to the use of cctv. He was spotted dropping a fag and down a drain and was fined. So the revenue generating properties of cctv are apparent but the ‘safer society’ aspect is not.

Posted by Ivan | Report as abusive

Quote 1: “…..Britain’s network of security cameras has been “an utter fiasco”, failing to cut crime despite billions of pounds being spent on it…….”And the cure for this grossly expensive and intrusive fiasco?Quote 2: “…. setting up a database of images …. put pictures of suspects in crimes such as muggings and rape on the Internet…………..Work is under way on whether software can be developed ……….better training and more intelligent use of the technology”Oh! so it looks like the cure is more of the same fiasco!Plus we must not forget the seed propaganda deftly inserted into every news item on the subject:Quote 3: “…….there are problems because it (CCTV) has been built up in “a piecemeal way” by organisations other than the police.”Oh dear! it looks like we need a new and national CCTV system centrally administered by the Police and paid for by Taxation via the monstrous and oppressive Airstrip One Government.There is no hope for this country, we have degenerated into being completely brainless. God help us.

Posted by Nick | Report as abusive

For CCTV to work we need to use higher definition cameras to put an end to the grainy footage which helps to convict in very few cases.A more visible police presence would be a more effective deterrent to would be criminals.

Posted by Tom Morgan | Report as abusive

Sarkozy wants to imitate the system in France, where the level of taxes is considerably higher…The big brother society is double costly, £wise and freedomwise and this article proves it.

Posted by Romain | Report as abusive

I agree 100% with Doktor Jon, the problem with most CCTV systems is that they have been purchased to enable a ‘tick’ in the box to be placed alongside ‘Do YOU HAVE CCTV’, and not designed for purpose. When the system images are then required to be used for what they were intended, identification of people or vehicles, they typically fall short because they have been installed ‘on a budget’ rather than having adequate resolution, frame rates and memory to suit the job they are intended for. Testing of CCTV systems to ensure that they meet the design criteria that you intended should be a given, however most CCTV systems are tested ‘subjectively’ and are often not designed to any particular standard. New standards are emerging in the US that can be used in the Uk and Europe and are available at system owners should look seriously at getting rid of older VHS based recorders and installing DVR’s or network based recorders if they are using network systems. This in it’s self will improve the ability to record better (resolution) images. Systems also need to be tested and maintained and there are industry accepted systems and methods to do this such as ROTAKIN, which the Home Office have developed specifically for testing the effectiveness of the whole system, camera, network and recorder.Video analytics systems are improving with the introduction of second generation systems that will make the work of studying CCTV systems much better, however, in the meantime many users of video analytics systems have to ensure they have them optimised for specific tasks, such as ‘area intrusion etc’ and leave the biometrics tasks to dedicated systems and operators.The DCI is correct is saying that many systems are near useless when it comes to reviewing the images in playback. This is because many systems are still of the older VHS/SVHS variety and need to be updated along with improving older cameras. New digital (4cif or 2cif) cameras are not that expensive these days and will make a significant difference to the usefulness of the system as will a planned maintenance routine. It all depends if you want to use the CCTV for evidential purposes or to simply have it as a deterrent. Either way you need to make sure that the cameras that you have work and are appropriate for use. I’d strongly suggest that CCTV users join a users group and also appraise themselves of what to do to ensure that any images they do record can be of use to the legal system. The home office has a new guide to handling ‘Digital Multimedia Evidence’ (DME) that all CCTV users and operators should be aware. There are also guidelines for placement of CCTV cameras that system owners should be aware of.At the end of the day, understand what you want your CCTV system to do and design it accordingly. Test it with the industry accepted test methods to avoid ‘subjective’ comments that the system is ‘OK Guv’ and above all check and maintain the system regularly.

Posted by Dave G | Report as abusive

I am an ex-pat living in Colorado. Since I left England twenty five years ago I have been totally amazed that British people allowed this extraordinary development concerning CCTV to ever take place…..Just the thought of it gives me the “willies”. Going about one’s daily business knowing that there are almost always eyes in the skies checking people out for any inconsistent behavior, as if people were kids in a playground watched over by playground monitors, is far more than I could ever cope with.What on earth happened to the British spirit ?It sounds as if you all have turned into a bunch of self demeaning and inconsequential robots….In fact I have more respect for robots….I’m not sure what to think of the British any more…..The moment my town even considers placing one of these abhorrent devices I am out of here as I have sufficient self respect not to tolerate such a blatant abuse of one’s privacy for such obviously ludicrous and ineffectual reasons and I don’t want to be around people who think they are ever justified.Those people have lost their marbles big time….

Posted by Limey | Report as abusive

As an ex city policeman I think the cameras are a big help I wish we had them in the sixties. |Some cameras possibly are sited in the wrong place but the police should make the councils resite them and should not put any camera up without discussing it with the police. These council employees love to play policemen it gives them an air of importance some are very good people mostly are just a hindrance. The courts need to be told these cameras are good evidence and use them. Procurator Fiscals have and still are pretty lazy and love to mark no pro on good evidence there no busy they say they mean too tired

Posted by G Macdonald | Report as abusive

Well, no big news here. That’s an issue that has been well raised in the insightful documentary “EVERY STEP YOU TAKE” last year already.There is clearly something wrong in this country.Only watching the film’s trailer at sends you shivers down your bones …

Posted by Tom Patterson | Report as abusive

Because the awful truth is out – that public CCTV is an ineffective waste of money – they will cease to be any useful deterrent. Whatsoever.Unfortunately, vast amounts of cash were poured down the civic drain via the purchasing of sub-standard equipment.Some cameras give such poor quality pictures that identification of suspects is rendered impossible.Big brother not only needs better quality spectacles – he needs to get hos act together.However, I am sure many of us will be releived not to be quite as obtrusively observed as we thought we were!

Posted by Keith M Warwick | Report as abusive

Neville has correctly identified that the UK’s CCTV network is currently not fit for purpose. However, the announced plans do not go far enough to rectify the situation, and there are several other key strategies that should be deployed to dramatically reduce crime with CCTV technology.The new measures announced merely enhance reactive observation of crime, rather than enabling proactive prevention. As highlighted by Neville, one of the biggest challenges with CCTV being effective is ensuring that the watchers are being watched, and currently the surveillance teams clearly don’t have enough time or the inclination to monitor the footage and respond to the action. Therefore, Viido must look to deploy ‘smart’ CCTV systems that can analyse the behaviour of criminals as it happens to allow the proactive prevention of crime. These ‘smart’ systems transmit the video image that is then automatically monitored for a range of simple to complex behaviours, such as unattended objects, undue dwell times, loitering and intrusion.Smart CCTV systems have been used in airports throughout the world, and provide an excellent example of a complex environment that has a high security threat and high area footfall. With the UK gearing up the 2012 London Olympics, it is vital that the security services don’t rely on outdated systems to prevent and detect malicious activity. The promised initiatives will go some way in improving the situation, but there is still a long way to realise the full potential of CCTV in the prevention of crime on our streets.

Posted by Richard Farnworth, NEC UK | Report as abusive

The comments made by Detective Chief Inspector Mike Neville will be echoed by officers through out the country. Due to a lack of standards within the CCTV industry, Police officers are faced with huge difficulties in trying to retrieve footage from CCTV systems. Police officers and the criminal justice system need to be provided with the information they desperately need to help easily and efficiently retrieve evidence. The Evidence Ready CCTV Standards Scheme will help arm officers with this vital information and help make CCTV the deterrent it should be.James DaviesForensic Video Analysis Group

Posted by James Davies | Report as abusive

very useful topic

Posted by cctv | Report as abusive

All the CCTV, all the police, special services, MI5, Interpol didn’t stop the London or Spanish bombs.The government want us to have ID cards, & that will lead to bio card info. They also tell us about the need to protect us from TERORISOM. Are we to believe that an ID card and biometric devices will prevent the bad guys? We lost security data & blank passports through the year, are we to assume that the data on the card is for some reason immune from theft or cloning? I would guess the bad guys will in time will be able to forge them as easily as they do passports now, especially as we give them the blanks to ensure they do a good job? I like many millions of others want to walk the streets safely, I also want to know that the public defenders are armed with all they need for the job, how ever to much information is also not a good thing. There is a saying “if you are in a position to play God sooner or later you believe you are God ” Information is like any other tool in the wrong hands it is the key to unlock Pandora’s box? (google clipper chip). Example who would believe you were innocent if your DNA was found near the crime seen? not me right now. 99% of Jo public are Jo are just that, It’s high time the agencies chased the bad guys instead of removing good old Jo’s freedoms? So how or better still who is all this information & technology saving. The police have more that enough legislation to deal with the UK /world problems now, the problem is a mind set of the youth today. The bad ones amongst us KNOW THE LAW & HOW TO AVOID IT & WORSE STILL DONT CARE????

Posted by Alan | Report as abusive

I like many millions of others want to walk the streets safely, I also want to know that the public defenders are armed with all they need for the job, how ever to much information is also not a good thing.Thanks.

Posted by CCTV | Report as abusive