The Metropolitan Police internal report that was behind media stories of CCTV solving just one crime per 1000 cameras in London has now been released to the wider public under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act. As usual the mainstream media did not get to the heart of the issues raised by the report. Below is a selection of articles:
- The Independent - 24/8/09
- The Telegraph - 25/8/09
- Daily Mail - 25/8/09
- Daily Express - 25/8/09
- The Sun - 25/8/09
The heavily redacted report (supplied in several versions and we are told "intended for internal discussion" containing "unqualified statements, statistics and personal opinion") relates to a Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) programme known as Operation Javelin – 'Catching Criminals Caught on Camera' but the above articles focused primarily on just one part of the report that states:
Op Javelin estimates that there are around one million cameras in London. Despite this, in 2008 less than 1000 crimes were solved using CCTV.
The shocking point the media missed is the number of cameras from which the police are able to obtain images. We know, thanks to a 2007 Freedom of Information request, that at that time there were 10,524 cameras run by local authorities and therefore under police control across the 32 London boroughs. The report however refers to an estimated one million cameras - acknowledging the fact that the police are also able to obtain footage from public transport and privately run cameras. At a conference in Bristol in 2007 the author of the Javelin report pointed out "more and more police head-cams are being introduced and are also likely to be used by others such as door staff and even lollipop ladies. Mobile phones also represent an 'enormous harvest' of potential crime suspects caught on camera" (reported in CCTV Image magazine November 2007). Effectively a surveillance footage land grab.
The October 2007 National CCTV Strategy suggested that police should be able to gain access to cameras outside their remit via network access:
Consideration should also be given to the police, with the consent of individual users having limited and prescribed network access to smaller CCTV systems, to allow them to investigate crimes carried out against those users, in their own premises, such as investigating a robbery at a local shop, or a burglary at a commercial premises. [p 35]
A National CCTV Strategy Board has now been set up and there are plans to: "Develop a system of registration that assists in the regulation of CCTV systems" (National CCTV Strategy Recommendation R3.6). Salford City Council has been leading the way in expanding the number of cameras available to police using a system of registration and mapping (currently voluntary). It seems likely that the National CCTV Strategy Board will expand such registration systems under the cover of the much called for regulation of CCTV thus facilitating a massive expansion of the surveillance state. The Javelin report further states: "Home Office / ACPO are promoting mapping of CCTV - VIIDOs can greatly assist as they have ownership and need to know location of cameras for their daily work".
Studies that have looked at the effectiveness of CCTV in the UK have shown that it is not an effective crime fighting tool and increasingly we are hearing of local authorities misusing surveillance powers granted to them under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act. Yet the solution that is being touted is to increase the surveillance network and unquestioningly trust the state. As Clive Norris and Gary Armstrong wrote in their 1999 study of the rise of CCTV in the UK 'The Maximum Surveillance Society': "while it may only be a cynic who questions the benign intent of their current rulers, it would surely be a fool who believed that such benevolence is assured in the future". Is the solution to the failure of CCTV really to expand its use?
According to the operation Javelin report if CCTV is used more effectively it will "significantly assist the public confidence target". So what is Operation Javelin? The FOI response explains the make up of the pilot operation which "remains constantly under review":
operation Javelin incorporates two strands, the VIIDO [Visual Images, Identifications and Detections Office] retrieval and production stage and the Met Cu [Met Circulation Unit] circulation stage. The MPS have made significant progress in the CCTV systems and process field and now have 11 dedicated VIIDO units across the MPS [Metropolitan Police Service] with a further 5 being considered for role (sic) out.
Operation Javelin was developed by DCI Mick Neville, the police officer who in 2008 famously said that the use of CCTV in the UK was an "utter fiasco". Neville worked alongside DS Steve Hubbard to set up the first VIIDO unit at Southwark Police Station in September 2007. VIIDO officers gather CCTV evidence which they take back to their VIIDO unit where they retrieve still images from the footage which are then submitted to the Met Circulation Unit (who's catchphrase is "The Met CU") who upload the images to an intranet called 'Caught on Camera'. According to an article published in the April 2008 edition of the Police Federation magazine Police:
Officers from all the divisions are encouraged to log onto 'Caught on Camera' and help identity the offenders. One police station is even paying its officers money as an incentive to identify offenders while they are off duty.
The Police Federation magazine article also explained that Neville believes CCTV should be treated as a forensic science in a similar way to DNA and fingerprint evidence:
He explained that while fingerprint evidence is stored on a national database, there is no such system for CCTV and so what has developed is a piecemeal approach to an area of policing he predicts will become the "third forensic discipline" in the next few years.
Here mention is made of the lack of a centralised CCTV database and the Operation Javelin report also refers to the need for a CCTV database in relation to the Met Circulation Unit when it states that "Additional staff and a database for images are urgently required". There is further reference to a CCTV database with relation to the forthcoming Olympics in London and the £600m budget for "additional policing and wider security for the Games" announced by Government in March 2007:
Olympics - the database would assist security (£600 million budget)
To get the picture of where this is heading, you need look no further than the National CCTV Strategy:
It is hoped, in future, as technology is developed, that such a network will allow the use of automated search techniques (i.e. face recognition) and can be integrated with other systems such as ANPR, and police despatch systems [...] [p 36]
The National CCTV Strategy also pushes the categorisation of CCTV as a forensic discipline akin to DNA and fingerprints:
The amount of money invested in the recovery and analysis of fingerprints and DNA is substantial and contrasts significantly with the resources invested in the recovery and analysis of CCTV evidence. Every force has a number of trained Crime Scene Investigators (CSIs) and additional funding was provided by the Home Office to develop every force’s capacity to recover and analyse DNA from volume crime scenes.
There is a need for the police service to determine the most appropriate model for managing the recovery and analysis of CCTV evidence. Consistency of approach will allow for national standards to be developed and applied and will assist in determining the skills and training required to support those who undertake the role. Whether CCTV recovery and analysis becomes another forensic discipline or sits within a High Tech Crime Unit has yet to be determined. However, without an appropriate model of delivery and management structure, the recovery and analysis of CCTV is likely to remain an ad hoc function that is under resourced and consequently less operationally effective.
A further reflection of the desire to treat CCTV evidence like DNA and fingerprints can be seen in the Policing and Crime Bill currently making its way through parliament. The bill contains proposals to give powers to the Home Secretary to introduce regulations relating to the retention, use and destruction of DNA, fingerprints and CCTV/ANPR images following the recent European Court of Human Rights decision relating to DNA retention. Such regulations would not be subject to parliamentary scrutiny or debate. These new powers have been criticised by Dr Chris Pounder of Amberhawk law training in his evidence to the Joint Committee on Human Rights:
it appears to be a little disingenuous to promote a New Clause with a claim that its objective is to resolve a serious breach of Article 8 re DNA, and slip in, without any announcement, a subtle definitional change that extends surveillance via the use and retention of ANPR and CCTV images. I think this kind of "double dealing" can only undermine public trust in the political process.
CCTV has been in use longer that DNA. Why has it not been deemed to be a forensic science before now? Perhaps because CCTV is not a science, it is nothing more than an eye-witness and open to interpretation. Indeed this fact was acknowledged when cine film footage was used by police in Chesterfield in 1935 but was not admissible in court because it was viewed as unsubstantiated hearsay. How have attitudes to CCTV changed so drastically?
As ever the debate surrounding CCTV focuses on how we can make it established, how we can completely formalise it, regulate it, make it acceptable and not about whether we should have such widespread use of surveillance cameras at all. We urgently need a proper debate into the surveillance state and the society we are creating before marching headlong towards the establishment of an expanded and networked surveillance camera system linked to databases and granted the status of perceived infallibility known as forensic science.