MAY 7th 2008

The discussion reported below on CCTV neglects the real reason why CCTV is not being used seriously to catch criminals except in those cases that reach and stir national or local interest and notable press coverage. If the system were now used properly in every case we would either have to build 100 new prisons pronto or find another way of punishing offenders. The cameras were supposed to be a deterrent, thereby reducing the potential prison population. To start using it properly now would overload the courts and the detention facilities. Yet it can't be used as a deterrent unless the threat of identification and punishment is real.

It all comes back to the same argument. As things stand an individual is either in prison or granted more freedom and privilege than even an emperor could have imagined a century or so ago. That is because we have few means of taking away privileges from individuals unless we lock them up. A temporary 'mark of Cain' is deemed damaging to the ego of the delicate little souls that commit crime and antisocial behaviour, or alternatively it is worn as a badge of honour by those who are proud to be a rebel, with or without a cause (that is reason, aspiration or both).

Catch 22 situations are as old as time. Shakespeare celebrated some, the Greek tragedians and comedians likewise. We can either face up to these problems or let the passage of time force the solution through reactions to situations we pretend are beyond our control, described by politicians as 'events'.

There is some excuse for the failure to use CCTV properly from the start, since its gradual application would have made the contrast between areas with it and without would have been stark and caused a reaction against its installation in the first place. It was used as a deterrent but the teeth were deliberately kept hidden. Unfortunately the bluff was called long ago. Now the gloves must come off. I can't unscramble those mixed metaphors so just live with them.

Summary In a single sentence:
Before we even contemplate asking the Police to use CCTV properly, there has to be a workable plan for what to do with the large number offenders that will be caught and prison as it stands is not the answer for most or for society.

An extract from today's BBC News report

Huge investment in closed-circuit TV technology has failed to cut UK crime, a senior police officer has warned.

Det Ch Insp Mick Neville said the system was an "utter fiasco" - with only 3% of London's street robberies being solved using security cameras.

Although Britain had more cameras than any other European country, he said "no thought" had gone into how to use them.

Det Ch Insp Neville heads a unit which is piloting a new database to track offenders using CCTV.

Speaking at the Security Document World Conference in London, Det Ch Insp Neville, the head of the Met's Visual Images, Identifications and Detections Office (Viido), said one of the problems was that criminals were not afraid of cameras.

There's no fear of CCTV. Why don't people fear it? [They think] the cameras are not working
Det Ch Insp Mick Neville Metropolitan Police

He also said more training was needed for officers who often avoided trawling through CCTV images "because it's hard work".

"CCTV was originally seen as a preventative measure," the Guardian quotes him as saying.

"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. It's been an utter fiasco: only 3% 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."

New database

CCTV operators also needed more feedback to ensure they felt "valued", he said.

Det Ch Insp Neville's unit is now piloting a new database of CCTV images which police hope will help track and identify offenders.

The unit is also looking at ways of using software which can follow distinctive brand logos on the clothing of unidentified suspects.

The contribution of CCTV to the detection of crime is likely to equal that of DNA and fingerprints
Graeme Gerrard, Deputy Chief Constable of Cheshire Police

In addition, from next month, his team will be putting images of suspects in muggings, rape and robbery cases on the internet.

"If criminals see that CCTV works they are less likely to commit crimes," Det Ch Insp Neville added.