Monday 20 July 2009


Town Centre CCTV ... crime hot spots or scenes of crime

This blogging lark really does require a strong level of commitment, and despite the fact that many have suggested that Doktor Jon should have been committed years ago, life and the world of CCTV seem to conspire against updating these occasional musings, on anything more than a sporadic basis.

Immediately after this post it will be back to the usual five hundred lines of, " I must make an effort to blog more often", but for now, here's the latest in a long line of glimpses behind the stories, that really should be making the news.

So what is it that's raised the Dok's ire in this instant?

Well after years of trying to encourage CCTV system designers to adopt a more "holistic approach" to deployment, the inescapable fact is that time and again, Public Space Surveillance is still being commissioned in the time dishonoured style of a remote control camera on a pole, watched by a person in front of a screen.

Do I have a significant problem with this? ... well yes I do if it's not the appropriate technique for the location, and the range and scale of problems that it's inevitably required to address.

For the benefit of those new to the world of CCTV, "Active" remote controlled cameras are really most appropriately used for active roles, such as Site Management or Incident Monitoring, provided of course the incident has been spotted in the first place (and as a subject for discussion, that could quite easily fill an entire chapter or two on its own).

Fixed and optimised "Passive" cameras are ideally suited for Evidential Recording, and to a lesser and perhaps secondary degree, the often stated objective of Deterrence, or as politicians so often prefer to describe it, "reducing the fear of crime ... and reducing the causes of crime" .

Which conveniently brings me on to a recent case of how not to decide which CCTV is most appropriate, for an apparent need.

Let me take you back to an incident which occurred last Halloween, where a shop owner was viciously mugged in a relatively laid back area of North London known as Temple Fortune. The location of the attack was at the northern end of a long straight shopping parade, which is somewhat unique in having a diverse and cosmopolitan selection of retail and leisure outlets, arranged over a distance of perhaps 1.1 ish miles (a bit short of 2 kilometres) from end to end.

On the fateful night of the attack, the female victim was violently assaulted in the street, and her car driven off by the perpetrators, who made their escape whilst the family's pet dog sat cowering in the back of the vehicle.

Now it perhaps goes without saying that there was no PSS camera system in place, and of course no privately operated CCTV cameras within 100 metres of the incident.

So now fast forward eight months, and on the back of a 1,000+ signature petition presented by local residents and traders to the London Borough of Barnet, the case for CCTV in Temple Fortune was rushed before the council's ruling cabinet committee.

In the documents presented to the meeting, it was stated that in the sixth month period between July and December 2008, 100 crimes had been recorded locally, as such designating the location as an obvious crime hot spot, something which given the scale of local concern, must be fast tracked through the system for urgent attention.

To address the unease of all and their dog, it was agreed by the committee that FIVE remote control CCTV cameras would be positioned along the length of the shopping parade, at the magnificent cost to the ratepayers of £ 150,000.

Great news indeed for all the locals; traders are mightily happy, terrified residents can sleep safe in their beds at night, the council have demonstrated that they really have their finger on the pulse with this one, and the overstretched boys and girls in blue are soon to have an all seeing high tech tool, supposedly guaranteed to help make their lot a much happier one.

So why is the Dok less than delirious at what appears on the face of it to be a more than happy outcome for all?
Well if we look at the council's own map showing a 'Global' non specific crime audit for the area, it doesn't actually present 100 crime incidents locally, but rather no more than a couple of dozen that had been recorded within the approved CCTV zone, although of course, they would in no way have been guaranteed to have been picked up by the proposed new surveillance system. As we all know, remote control cameras can only ever look in one direction at one time, so which one is the right one ...?

Without wishing to state the obvious, a couple of dozen incidents equates to roughly one crime per week during the stated period; as crime hot spots go, it's not exactly sizzling.

Then there's the small matter of the location of the cameras; spaced out as they are at significant distances from each other, the likelyhood is only a very small percentage of the area will actually be recorded in anything approaching a useful level of detail, and certainly the chances of capturing suspects at anything approaching the recommended levels of clarity laid down by the Home Office Scientific Development Branch, are too small to even bother trying to calculate.

Now if the truth be told, the location of last years car jacking is in excess of 250 metres away from the nearest camera, or to put it another way, if the crime were repeated post CCTV installation, there would be no possibility whatsoever of recording the incident, with the proposed system.

Had the local authority taken the trouble to examine the unique features and requirements of this popular shopping area, a more intelligent approach may have suggested that a properly deployed and operated community based "SafetyNet" type CCTV installation, would almost certainly be significantly more effective for both Forensic Surveillance and Crime Reduction purposes.

Given that it may well have cost perhaps £ 75 - 100k less than the approved project, and it does start to raise questions about how and why funding is blindly spent, on schemes which are on the face of it questionable at best, and from this side of the table at least, more akin to an ineffectual and expensive drain on very limited resources.

Politics aside, if there is a need for CCTV that's fine, but at the very least, some concerted effort should always be made to establish the extent of the need, and the most appropriate and affordable means by which to satisfy the desire.

On a happier note, I'm delighted to report that the car jacked doggie was quickly returned to his distraught owner, who despite her recent pyrrhic victory in the council chamber, may not actually receive the longterm level of technological protection, which some media reports would have us believe.

An interesting although almost certainly less than unique example, of how the age old approach to public space surveillance, is well overdue for a serious rethink, if progress is ever going to be made.

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Tuesday 7 April 2009


When it comes to CCTV, we live in an age of innocence

You'd think after all these years of walking along chatting on a mobile phone (cellphone), that by now the novelty would have worn off. And yet time and again I'm struck by the apparent simplicity of the concept against a backdrop of some quite spectacularly clever technology, that we all just take for granted.

It will perhaps come as no surprise that I'm actually old enough to appreciate a world before mobile communications, in fact I can still readily recall the immense effort required for my then young and spindly fingers to turn the old rotary dialler, on our ancient rattly old bakolite telephone.

Now you could be forgiven for wondering what the heck this has to do with CCTV, but quite by accident, I had something of a eureka moment the other day.

I happened to come across an interesting article written on the subject of video surveillance, possibly one of perhaps hundreds that I might chance upon in an average week.
What set this piece apart was not so much the content, as there's very little written on the subject that I haven't already seen a few dozen times before. 

No, what really set this apart, was not only was it written by a very thoughtful and articulate young lady in her twenties, but she also happened to be a resident of the United States that is currently studying in the U.K.

I've long been wondering about the precise mechanics of deterrence in relation to the way we attempt to use CCTV as a crime reducing technology, and how our experiences in the U.K. tend to suggest that there is something fundamentally wrong with the simple concept of 'cameras cut crime'.

I certainly know enough about the subject to realise that it isn't simply about using the technology, but equally it's as important to apply the correct techniques, and in so doing properly fulfil a defined and achievable strategy.

Now coming back to the young lady gracing our shores, her perception of CCTV and it's implications on our society, were reported by her to be very different from those of her british peers, and this simple observation was what finally caused the penny to drop.

Since successive U.K. governments started to fund the widescale deployment of Public Space CCTV schemes back in the '80s, that would mean that anyone under the age of 25, would not really  know a world without surveillance cameras. From their earliest memories of childhood, the cameras have always been there, albeit that it's only been in the last ten or so years that the installation of cameras has really taken off big time.

So on the basis that over here, people of a certain age have become generationally habituated to the presence of CCTV, barely concerned as to whether the systems are operating efficiently, or at all for that matter, it can't really be any great surprise that youth crime is stubbornly refusing to respond to a deterrence, which an older generation have naively invested billions in, and which to this day is promoted as a technological cure-all for societies many and varied ills.

There has to be something not quite right, when the old duffers think it's money well spent, and the target of their attentions, the less than bright young things ... just ain't bovvered.

As a society, we perhaps need to take a step back and consider carefully all the achievable objectives, and how best to focus resources on addressing the actions of the law defying, without continuing to routinely impact on the everyday lives of the law abiding.

Or then again, we could just keep on spending a large fortune on covering the country with as many CCTV  cameras as possible, and still have one of the least enviable crime rates amongst all of our european neighbours.

Decisions, decisions .....

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Monday 6 April 2009


Does white van man have his eyes on you ...?

There's been a lot of controversy just recently about the launch of Google's StreetView service, where camera equipped cars are roaming the country snapping images of peoples homes, which are readily available over the internet for anyone that has an interest.

The fact that the vehicles are unmarked, and indeed carry no signage to comply with the Data Protection Act, shouldn't really provide any great surprises, and yet Google aren't really alone when it comes to having a quick snoop up the average side street.

Not for the first time in recent weeks, I've spotted a white unremarkable unmarked van, cruising past my door, with nothing to arouse suspicion other than the fact that each corner of the roof is embellished with an outwardly pointing CCTV bullet camera.

Rumour has it, the vehicles (of which there are many) are being deployed by the local councils in order to identify untaxed vehicles, using a database supplied by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA), which is compared against the images of vehicle number plates snapped by the passing van.

Now why would they want to cruise the streets of old London Town looking for untaxed vehicles.

The answer of course is clamping and penalty charges for release; so acting as agents for the DVLA, in the words of Arfur Daley they're on to a nice little earner.

And who said there's not much profit left in video surveillance ...?

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Sunday 5 April 2009


The art of CCTV resolution, or reading between the lines?

Just prior to the G20 summit here in London, this CCTV news story caught my eye on

Now I'm quite used to reading 'strange but true' stories about the mad things people do with video surveillance cameras, but this piece really did stand out simply because it's daftness could so easily have been mistaken for an April fool joke, and by all accounts, many indeed thought that it was.

The background is very simple; Londons Westminster City Council have invested £ 15 million ( about US$ 20m or € 15.5m ) in a "state of the art" mesh network enabled video surveillance system, using re-deployable dome cameras that are mostly fixed to street lights. 

At this point, I should perhaps mention that they've been happily using them for quite some time now, that is until the civil servants at the Department of Transport decided that with some new legislation coming into effect on the 1st of April, the cameras were no longer compliant and so would have to be switched off.

So that's about 60 street surveillance cameras deemed to be unfit, and condemned to be switched off, on the very day that all the worlds top brass buttons roll into town, amid one of the largest security operations ever seen in the capitol.

All makes sense so far ...? Well no actually, there was something rather odd about this story, repeated as it was across numerous news and media organisations; so I decided to do a bit of research to try and find out what all the fuss was about.

Now the first thing I discovered was the new legislation related specifically to the use of CCTV cameras, in order to issue Penalty Charge Notices (PCN's) for traffic violations. Now unless I'm misreading the situation, the cameras were ordered to be turned off, simply because they were deemed to be non compliant with the specification laid down for cameras, intended to be used for policing vehicle offences. 

I could be wrong here, but it doesn't actually follow that if the cameras cannot be used for issuing PCN's, then they can't in the meantime be used for something else, such as Public Space Surveillance, where no such mandatory specification actually exists.

So at this point, it becomes clear that the cameras could in theory continue to be used for street monitoring / public safety, but they cannot be used lawfully for issuing tickets, or what according to the great British public, is euphamistically termed "revenue generation".

That then conveniently brings me on to the next point of contention, which actually relates to the new legislation introduced by the Department of Transport.

The entire basis of the argument is over the difference in image resolution between 4CIF (in this case, the councils cameras that are imaging at 702 x 576 pixels), and the stated requirement in the DfT documentation which is a minimum of D1 ( 720 x 576 pixels).

Now there's actually a number of quite seriously daft issues here. 
Firstly, the actual difference between 4CIF and D1 may only be in the order of about 2.5% in practical terms, but in the real world, there isn't an engineer alive that could visually tell the two standards apart if the pictures were presented for viewing in isolation.

That said, there is a glaringly obvious mistake in attempting to relate image quality in relation to resolution, by simply stating the requirements in pixels. That is an absolute no, no in my world, for reasons I won't bore you with at this point.

The correct way to lay a standard for resolution, is by stating a requirement for both vertical and horizontal resolution, measured in "lines", with perhaps a + / - 10% to allow for what goes on in the real world.

For example, if the camera, transmission system and recorder are all optimised for D1 quality, the lens may be within spec at 2.10 pm on a monday afternoon, but twelve hours later, as the iris opens to allow night coverage, the resolution produced by the lens could easily drop 10 - 20%, so in theory making the entire system underperform, and therefore prove to be unfit for purpose according to the minimum specification.

Likewise, atmospheric grime deposited on the cameras dome or window, could quickly reduce the resolution by anything up to 30 percent or more, which in itself presents an interesting situation for anyone wishing to challenge the legality of PCN's issued using a CCTV system, which may well be unwittingly, unlawful in nature.

Despite numerous attempts to find a reference in the documentation, it would appear that unlike the widescale use of 'speed guns' which are used for tackling motorists travelling over the speed limit, there doesn't appear to be any mandatory calibration process required, to ensure that the CCTV cameras are operating 'on spec', most of the time. 

There isn't even a statutory requirement for regularly cleaning the camera's to maintain quality; it simply states that a camera should be kept clean to help maintain the image performance.

I suppose the bottom line is, the difference between 4CIF and D1 may only be a couple of percent in terms of potential resolution, but the difference between using notional pixels and actual resolved 'lines' as a measure of image resolution, is quite literally worlds apart.

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Happy new CCTV year .... again!!

Well that just goes to prove it .... I said way back in January that my new year's resolution was going to be a concerted attempt to spend far more time blogging about CCTV and the meaning of life. 

So what do I do?, well not a lot to be honest, until that is I discovered quite by accident that last week was yet another New Year celebration, this time in Iran.

Having promised in the new year to post more stories about video surveillance, now at last I can actually fulfil my obligations, albeit that I'm probably about three months later than perhaps I should be.

Oh well, the brain is willing but the body is otherwise occupied; that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.

Anyway, if you come across any interesting CCTV or IP Video related news stories, why not drop me a line and I'll make sure they get seen by a wider audience.

In the meantime, if you happen to know any of the words to Auld Lang Syne ....

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Friday 9 January 2009


When it comes to CCTV, colour is the new black ... and white

Well to be strictly accurate, here in the U.K.,  colour systems became the preferred option perhaps seven to ten years ago, which in itself does provide a somewhat tenuous link for this particular posting.

Having been in the business for just over thirty years, every now and again I try and take a few minutes to look back at material I'd previously written, and see whether the prophecies and predictions were really all that I thought they would be, when I actually sat down and wrote them.

As you might imagine some aspects of CCTV development were fairly easy to foretell although it wasn't always possible to be completely accurate on timescales. 

I only mention this because one particular area of somewhat rapid development which is currently subject to my less than detailed consideration, is the adoption of "Headcams" or "Body Worn Video" as some agencies prefer to call it.

The idea of equipping an individual with their very own compact CCTV system is not in itself completely new, but the main accelerant in it's increasingly enthusiastic adoption, now appears to be the rapid drop in pricing for the equipment.

In the last couple of years, police officers, traffic wardens, door operatives, security officers, hospital employees, bus and train inspectors, and would you believe even police dogs, to name but a few, have all increasingly been required to wear their own personal constantly recording video package, as part of their everyday work wear.

The deployment of these systems is often in the name of capturing anti social behaviour, although as the technology becomes more widely used, it does raise a number of questions which thus far have not really been addressed.

For example, there really is little or no discussion about the implications for using this technology. Quite apart from an individual being routinely recorded without consent, often  going about their lawful business, the fact that there are little if any controls or checks on the way the equipment is currently used, and what might eventually happen to the recordings themselves, does suggest that this may in some respects be the 'thin end of the wedge' when it comes to recognising what may or may not be an appropriate and justified use of the technology.

The Information Commissioner recently outlawed the widescale use of microphones as part of a CCTV installation, and yet Body Worn Video (BWV) sets routinely record speech along with pictures, and nobody dares to question the practice. Come to think of it, in relation to the Data Protection Act, personal data is being gathered, often without the consent or knowledge of the data subject, and there are no statutory signs to notify members of the public that the systems are being used.

Now to be equitable about this, there are obviously a number of situations where the appropriate use of BWV is both sensible and acceptable, but then where as a society do we decide to draw the line.

Twenty years ago, the idea of everyone and his uncle walking down the high street with their own camera phone, was quite literally an idea born from science fiction. 

So what if I were to suggest that in perhaps twenty years time, BWV will not only have permeated throughout society, but may indeed be a technology of fashion, with people reluctant to leave home unless their personal video system is both charged and recording.

Shoppers may use the evidence of their recordings to return goods to a store, demonstrating that the sales assistant promised on camera that the product would do something, which it was subsequently found to be quite incapable of achieving.

Covert cameras are already being sold at silly prices, with a range of clothing disguises from baseball caps, ties, handbags, buttons, belts, sunglasses, watches, and goodness knows what else, readily available from a number of far eastern suppliers, and in a range of styles.

Whilst it could be agreed that in the field of video surveillance, we've actually come a very long way in the last few years, many could quite justifiably argue that in some respects, we may already have gone just that little bit too far.

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Wednesday 7 January 2009


CCTV Industry news in the last seven days

A very happy new year to you, and here's hoping you're fighting fit and really looking forward to what will undoubtedly prove to be ... a most interesting year ahead.

Personally, I hate new year resolutions, simply because they rarely last more than a week or two at best, but in a valiant effort to be more disciplined in my less than satisfactory attempts to regularly update this blog, I'm hoping to routinely post new content, particularly with regards to the latest industry news and general work in progress on my main site.

So to get things off to a well intentioned start, here's some brief details of some Press Releases that have been received in the last week or so ....

IQinVision have announced their 2009 'Summit' dates

Pelco's annual charity support has paid dividends for the "Toys for Tots" campaign, and they've also just picked up an award for their Sarix technology

Raytec have announced the launch of their latest "Fusion" Infra Red and White Light solid state illuminators. They've also just published details of their first successful PLATINUM Partner Conference

It's been announced that Adam Wiseberg has left AD Group

IndigoVision's IP-CCTV solution is being used to protect the "Pearl of the Orient"

And if you're interested to see some other recent manufacturers press releases, just have a quick browse through the archive index

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