Opinion: Time to call time on CCTV regulation debate


Picture: Frank Crouwel, managing director of NW Systems 

I read with interest the message from the current CCTV Commissioner Tony Porter based on a BBC Radio 5 interview this week. For those that did not read or hear it Mr Porter pressed for increased CCTV regulation to deliver more effective surveillance and end the industry’s legacy of poorly-specified and maintained systems.

In the interview Mr Porter states he is in favour of well-run surveillance systems that serve a clear purpose. By the same token he has clearly seen far too many poorly-run ones in his brief time in the job. He is not alone.

I agree with him that it is time to push for tighter and more effective, centralised regulation of the surveillance world to root our poor CCTV deployments and systems management. The fact that today’s fragmented security market is currently held to account by an equally fragmented and largely toothless collection of trade bodies does not help.

I don’t agree with him that we need another ‘public debate’. This is a political phrase which normally leads to inaction. To me it indicates an unwillingness to actually tackle the root cause of a problem and potentially kicks it into the long grass. The debate about the need for modernisation of the security industry has not moved on in any meaningful way in more than 10 years, if not longer. We now need action to prevent further compounding of the problem and start to put it right.

Mr Porter was spot on when he said councils and private organisations need a regular CCTV system review regime to ensure existing cameras are working well; recordings are still working properly; quality is maintained; user access is properly controlled; and their intended purpose is still being achieved and remains valid.

Systems which fail these tests should be upgraded. Or if the security requirement has changed and they are no longer doing a job they should be scrapped or redeployed elsewhere. This review process should the responsibility of the system user and should be more strictly regulated.

Having been in the industry for 15 years it is clear that our sector as a whole does not have a good reputation amongst its customers. It sometimes feels like we operate under a gathering cloud of suspicion. One of the key problems is that it is difficult for an end-user to establish whether he or she has found a provider which is up to the job and will be able to help with any on-going review requirement after the system has gone live.

Correct design, configuration, installation and maintenance are all important considerations for any specifier but many firms are unable to cover off all these aspects which keep the system delivering security benefits year in year out. There are industry CCTV certifications and accreditation schemes for end-users to turn to for guidance but their codes are largely meaningless and have definitely fallen far behind the technology curve as IP video systems have begun to be deployed in much greater numbers.

There is also a need for the industry to both keep up-to-date with these technology developments and to simultaneously professionalise. We need to recognise that the technology that is now available is both highly sophisticated and potentially very powerful. But equally, it is only effective if designed and commissioned correctly and managed properly. This requires an advanced skill-set, knowledge-base and on-going training regime, ideally all professionally certified. But there is not enough of this around and little incentive to get it done as buyers rarely demand it of their suppliers.

In a recent IHS report it was stated that 75% of CCTV camera units sold in the UK are still analogue, which is ‘old technology’ according to Mr Porter, whilst over 50% of sales (by value) are now IP-based with the balance being analogue-based. If these figures are correct the cheaper (often inadequate) analogue devices are still being installed in large volumes.

Why is this still the case when most other Western European countries have 80% or more IP video penetration? This is an important question because, we believe, there is a strong correlation between high quality deployments of the latest IT technologies and highly efficient, targeted and effective surveillance? The answer is effective regulation, which is far more prevalent in those countries than it is in the UK.

So what action is needed now to begin to move the needle in the right direction? We need to professionalise and fast. Without concerted action by Mr Porter; our law makers, law enforcers, industry bodies and other influencers; we will fail to professionalise as a sector. The result: increasing numbers of ‘useless cameras’ which fail to meet basic requirements and are ‘poorly managed’.

Evidence of these poor systems will continue to incline the public and media alike to question the value of many of the cameras they see in their daily trips around our towns and cities. I’ll be pleasantly surprised if anything changes in the next 10 years. Let’s see!

  • Frank Crouwel is Managing Director of NW Systems, a specialist IP video company with offices in Hoylake near Liverpool and Enfield, London.


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