Call for private CCTV cameras to be registered with police

CommunityCam Philadelphia CCTV surveillance camera mapping

Map of CCTV surveillance cameras in Philadelphia, USA courtesy of CommunityCam

A member of the London Assembly has called for a register of privately-owned CCTV cameras to aid police when investigating crimes.

Roger Evans, Conservative London Assembly Member, said he was disappointed that police rarely used CCTV when investigating crimes.

He based his comments on the results of an FOIA request to the Metropolitan Police Service which revealed the headline result that London police recovered CCTV footage for just 23,278 crimes, compared to 118,287 crimes where footage was not obtained – a recovery rate of just 16 per cent, according to Evans.

Evans referred to a report on CCTV numbers by the British Security Industry Association which found that privately-owned cameras outnumber public CCTV by a ratio of 70-to-one and said that police should be making more use of this wealth of private CCTV footage. However, it should be pointed out that the majority of those are not publicly-facing cameras because the BSIA was counting total numbers of cameras, regardless of whether they were inside an office building or warehouse or were facing a street, so the ratio of 70-to-one should be treated with caution.

Still, it is true that the vast majority of cameras in the UK are privately owned, and Evans is calling for those cameras to be voluntarily registered to create a database that would help police find relevant cameras quickly when conducting an investigation.

Evans is concerned that police are not using CCTV to investigate crimes. “Serious crooks such as murderers, rapists and robbers may be getting off scot free for one in five crimes because the available CCTV is not even recovered,” he said.

He doesn’t address the problem of how difficult and time consuming it can be to recover images from myriad CCTV systems. A lack of standards for the downloading of data from video recorders means that police officers may have to make multiple visits to recover video and then render it into a format that is playable by prosecution, defence and the courts.

He said that the American cities of New Orleans and Philadelphia have successfully implemented similar schemes. Evans said: “With limited resources the police should be working more closely with private CCTV owners across the Capital as the costs are minimal for the potential benefits. Pubs, clubs, shops and offices – who already own private CCTV cameras – should be able to register their details on a central website if they would like to help solve crimes in their area. Officers could then locate these cameras on a digital map and instantly contact the owners for footage in the event of a crime. Similar schemes are successfully running in places like New Orleans and Philadelphia. In many cases the footage is out there to solve a crime and we should have systems for the police and London’s civic minded people to work together in a simple and cheap way to catch villains.”

A similar register of cameras was created by the Cheshire Constabulary. In a programme organised by DCC Graeme Gerrard, PCSOs were tasked with collecting information on every publicly facing camera in the force area, with the data being entered into the force’s geographical information system (GIS). [Only 1.85 million cameras in the UK, says ACPO lead on CCTV]

A search of the internet revealed that there is a crowd-source scheme called CommunityCam run by the videosurveillance.com website that enables members of the public to map cameras in seven American cities, but the information is publicly accessible and not secure. Opening the map of Philadelphia revealed that coverage of the city is patchy and the information on each camera is limited to its location, saying nothing about its field of view, resolution or recording capabilities.

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