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Even The Met Are Unconvinced:
The October 2007 Association Of
Chief Police Officers' [A.C.P.O.] Report;

But "The Independent" asks:

"The Big Question: Are CCTV cameras a waste of money in the fight against crime?"

© By Andy McSmith
Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Why are we asking this now?

This is one man's view of how effective CCTV has been so far: "It's been an utter fiasco: only 3 per cent of crimes were solved by CCTV. There's no fear of CCTV. Why don't people fear it? (They think) the cameras are not working." This is not some disgruntled or ill-informed citizen talking. The speaker is Detective Chief Inspector Mick Neville, head of the Visual Images, Identifications and Detections Office (Viido) at New Scotland Yard, speaking this week at a security World Conference.

Naturally, the opponents of CCTV, or those who just want a stick to beat the Government with, fell in behind the Chief Inspector. "Yet again the Government manage to achieve the worst of both worlds. The current unfocussed approach to CCTV impinges on privacy whilst doing little to improve public safety," the Conservative Shadow Home Secretary David Davis said yesterday.

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So does CCTV really not solve crimes?

It does, but in all-too rare instances. Most famously, it played a crucial part in the Jamie Bulger case in 1993, when the Liverpool toddler was taken from a shopping centre and murdered. In April 2003, a man wielding knife attacked and injured four people in Kingston, Surrey. He was caught on camera, and swiftly arrested. Earlier this year, the forklift truck driver Steve Wright was convicted of murdering five women in the Ipswich area, largely on the strength of CCTV footage of his car, taken in or near the town's red light district at relevant times.

But Chief Inspector Neville's point is that in far too many cases where somebody has been mugged, or property has been damaged or stolen, it emerges that the CCTV camera was faulty, or switched off, or did not have a film in it, or was pointing in the wrong direction. Fewer than one crime in 30 is solved through CCTV.

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But doesn't CCTV deter crime?

One company that sells CCTV equipment makes the startling claim that "crime is dramatically reduced by up to 95 per cent where CCTV is installed." If that were true, the UK would be most crime-free country in the world. The cameras are better at preventing low-level opportunist crime like break-ins, but are little deterrent to street violence, and they work better in semi- open spaces like car parks than in streets. Dover council introduced CCTV in 1993. After 12 years, they found that burglary in the areas covered had halved, car crime was down 87 per cent, but public disorder and crimes of violence had almost trebled.

A study in Gillingham, also in Kent, concluded that crime in the High Street had fallen by a third five years after CCTV was installed, while it was static in areas where there was no CCTV.

But possibly the most authoritative study, and the one most often quoted by critics of CCTV, was conducted for the Home Office in 2004 by a team from Leicester University, headed by Professor Martin Gill. They examined 14 CCTV systems, and found that only one had really cut crime. That was in a car park. The others, they concluded "had no overall effect on crime."

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What about the processing of CCTV when a crime occurs?

There are problems here too, Chief Inspector Neville claiming that CCTV is not being used properly. "Billions of pounds has been spent on kit, but no thought has gone into how the police are going to use the images and how they will be used in court," he complained. He wants more training, more feedback, and a better "career path" for police officers who operate CCTV. Graeme Gerrard, Deputy Chief Constable of Cheshire added that it can be frustrating for officers to have their inquiries thwarted by CCTV equipment that has gone wrong, but overall, he claimed: "The contribution of CCTV to the detection of crime is likely to equal that of DNA and fingerprints."

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How many CCTV cameras are there in the UK?

A website run by the charity Privacy International  publishes a world map, updated annually, in which countries are colour coded according to the level of surveillance to which their citizens are subjected, white for the countries where there is the greatest respect for individual privacy, black for the countries such as Russia, China and various Middle Eastern states, where surveillance is "endemic". Most years, there is only one European country coloured black – the UK. This is because the UK could be almost be called the home of the CCTV camera. One fifth of the world's CCTV cameras are reputedly found on these islands, which represent less than one five hundredth of the world's habitable land mass. No one knows exactly how many there are, because so many different agencies, private and public, have installed them.

Clive Norris, Professor of Sociology at Sheffield University, calculated four years ago that there were "at least" 4,285,000 – one for every 14 citizens. The standard figure usually cited is "over four million". Prof Norris also claimed in his 1999 book The Maximum Surveillance Society that a person could be caught on CCTV cameras 300 times in a day. This figure is on the high side; Prof Norris has described it as "a piece of rhetoric" intended to "make a point" – but a few hours' spent travelling around central London could take you past 300 cameras.

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Why is CCTV so popular in the UK?

The British love affair with CCTV seems to have originated with the Bulger case. Those grainy pictures were seen by almost everyone in the UK, and led to a quick arrest.

The Home Office reacted by making grants available to any local council that wanted to install cameras. Within four years, their number had leapt from a few hundred to around 300,000. The City of London was at the front of the queue, after the IRA detonated a bomb that killed one person and did an estimated £1 billion worth of damage, after which the police put a "ring of steel" around Bishopsgate to prevent any more attacks, including hundreds of CCTV cameras.

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Should the cameras be scrapped?

No one is seriously suggesting that all CCTV cameras should be dismantled, though many people would like to see fewer of them. The issue is how they are used. The Data Protection Act, and the Information Commissioner's guidelines say that all cameras should be visible, with clear signs, and tapes should be stored safely. CameraWatch, an independent pressure group, reckons that up to 90 per cent of CCTV operators are breaking the law, though that is denied by the Information Commissioner. But even where they are being operated legally, it seems, they are not being used properly.

Should we scrap CCTV?


* CCTV is costing hundreds of thousands of pounds a year, and solving less than 3 per cent of crimes.

* The evidence that CCTV deters criminals is very thin on the ground.

* It's making the UK like a giant Big Brother set every step you take, they'll be watching you.

Even The Met Are Unconvinced:
The October 2007 Association Of
Chief Police Officers' [A.C.P.O.] Report

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