in Community Safety

CCTV. Revisited.

CCTVOnce again the issue of CCTV has raised it’s head. This time it is as a result of a ‘Big Brother Watch’ press release that, I believe, totally misses the real point.

I’m afraid I don’t have a lot of sympathy for BBW (and don’t put that into Google at work). They are an offshoot of the Tax Payers’ Alliance, an organisation that, as everyone’s mother said, know the price of everything and the value of nothing. For an organisation that really cares about civil liberties I’d suggest you go to Liberty – a truly excellent organisation.

BBW put in Freedom of Information requests to 100 councils asking for the number of cameras and a copy of internal guidance. As far as I can see they don’t seem to have done anything with the guidance they received from Wandsworth or any other borough.

And that’s strange, since they acknowledge in their final report that “there is obviously a role to play for technology in general, and CCTV in particular, in law enforcement and we are not opposed to CCTV per se.”

Yet they put out a press release that condemns councils purely for the number of cameras they have and not how they use them.

It seems to me that one camera improperly used is far more dangerous than hundreds of thousands of well-regulated cameras. Which is why I’m disappointed they didn’t bother to mention that Wandsworth has a strict CCTV code of conduct which prevents use of the cameras on private areas, or that our operators are trained, hold the appropriate SIA qualifications and regularly checked by the Criminal Records Bureau.

I’m also disappointed that they didn’t bother to find out that around half the criminal cases brought in the borough use CCTV evidence, or that they didn’t ask to hear about any of the crimes our operators have prevented, or helped the police rapidly apprehend the suspects through use of the CCTV network.

And because they didn’t enquire, we weren’t able to tell them about the way the police use our CCTV to help them in targeted investigations either by working with our camera operators or putting police officers into our control room.

And it was silent on the fact that Wandsworth is inner London’s safest borough, partly due to intelligent, controlled and pro-active use of CCTV.

CCTV is not the issue, the use to which it is put is the issue. The last time this cropped up and I ended up discussing this with Liberty’s Shami Chakrabarti it was clear that the issue is not councils or public authorities that are the problem – they are well regulated and use high quality equipment. The problem are the shops, pubs and clubs that use the equipment without proper regulation, or re-use tapes so often they become useless. But, of course, they aren’t covered by Freedom of Information and don’t make for an easy Daily Mail headline.

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  1. Hear hear! From what I have seen, Liberty take a balanced view toward CCTV, as long as the use of CCTV is proportionate, justified and regulated.

    The BBW report is a half-baked statistical midden, producing much heat but very little light.