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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hi, i like your site.

may i know how to obtain my own cctv footage in london? ive been to but i cant find the section regarding this. also, do i have to provide any reason to them so as to get the footage?

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