Former UK Law Enforcement Official Says Public Surveillance Cameras Work

By Wayne Ohlemeier
Posted July 10, 2008

This recent article in “Security Products” reinforces what we at Sonitrol Pacific have been telling anyone interested in a security camera system for a long time, in order for the technology to work and for a company to get a good return on their investment in video surveillance or cctv, you must clearly define the goals for a system and determine what success of that system looks like before making any purchase.

Former UK Law Enforcement Official Says Public Surveillance Cameras Work
By Brent Dirks | June 6, 2008

Public surveillance cameras in the United Kingdom work, but there are a few caveats. Sir Chris Fox, former president of the National Association of Chief Police Officers and 34-year veteran of British law enforcement, made the case for surveillance in a recent presentation.

“Community safety cameras work when they are planned, designed and implemented properly,” said Fox, who spoke at an ADT-sponsored event in May in Berkeley, Calif. “They work and are a good thing.”

The use of surveillance cameras in the United Kingdom stretches back to 1964 when the new technology was first used by retail and shops. Currently, there are a staggering 4.2 million plus cameras in the country — one for every 14 people.

Fox said there were a number of reasons for the camera explosion without any outcry from civil liberties groups.

While, with the exception of the Sept. 11 attacks, the United States has been shielded from terrorism, violence from the IRA was a very real occurrence in the United Kingdom. Thanks to government funding in the 1990s and that constant threat of violence, the “community safety” cameras were welcomed in the country.

“In our environment, as it was, cameras were seen as a good thing,” he said. “Every day, I would get a request from a neighborhood saying we want some cameras. I never got a request saying take them away, it was an invasion of our privacy. The mentality was totally different; it’s changed a little bit, but then it was totally accepting.”

Currently, a typical CCTV system in the United Kingdom covers both high-risk and high-crime areas. Run by a city council, the system is not monitored by police but by trained users who are in contact with police via telephone and radio. All images are recorded and kept for 30 days.

Fox stressed that the notion of privacy doesn’t extend into a public place. But he said the system can’t target an individual without judicial approval.

Cameras in the country, Fox said, play a major role in the effort to reduce crime. When cameras are installed, the technology deters offenders and detects crime, eventually leading to more public vigilance and making communities feel safer. In the United Kingdom, citizens are now safer than they have since 1981.

But for the technology to work, Fox said, communities need to set goals and define success before installing the cameras — as well as update the justice system with the compatible technology and hire enough police to respond to incidents caught by the system.

Fox’s presentation highlighted a number of successes thanks to the cameras — including the July 2005 bombings that killed 52 and injured more than 700. Fox helped coordinate the national police response to the incident.

By using the cameras, police were able to identify the bombers and learn from the incident. Eventually, more than 194 other suspects were identified and arrested.

The cameras also were instrumental in identifying suspects in a failed attack against London transportation two weeks later.
And despite the cultural and other differences between the United Kingdom and United States, Fox said cameras also could work in America, especially with the advent of video analytics and intelligent surveillance systems.

“What I would tell my fellow police authorities and officials in the United States is to get your act together and be very specific with what you want and go to the private sector and ask ‘What can you do?” Fox said. “They need to be thought through very carefully and analytically before saying “We want some of that.””

Speaking of ADT, I recently was able to tour a wireless mesh surveillance system installed by the company in the city and port of Richmond, Calif., a Bay Area suburb. It’ll have more on the setup and technology behind it in the homeland security section of September’s Security Products magazine.