Ever since the first town centre CCTV surveillance system went live in 1984 in Bournemouth, the use of the technology has been controversial. Fuelled by Central Government funding throughout the 1990’s the United Kingdom is alleged to have more CCTV cameras per head of population than any other country in the world.
Whilst one can argue about the number of cameras installed, one thing is for certain, CCTV cameras have become an everyday feature and views amongst the public are polarised with some viewing their use as an extension of the ‘Big Brother State’ whilst others view their use as an essential part of protecting the public.
The proliferation of the CCTV technology has been undertaken by people without any guidance as to how the technology should actually be ‘used’. This has resulted in a haphazard approach to the use of the technology throughout the country.
There have been claims that CCTV acts as a deterrent to criminal activity and counterclaims that CCTV does nothing more than displace crime. The most extensive evaluation into the ‘effectiveness’ of CCTV published in 2005 concluded that the technology might be most effective when used as a means of directing resources on the ground to incidents as they occurred. My own experiences lead me to believe that is the case.
The problem is that the capital and revenue costs associated with public space CCTV surveillance operations is considerable and up to this point no one has actually calculated whether it is cost-effective. Currently this situation leaves many local authorities in something of a dilemma – undertaking public space CCTV surveillance operations to many, despite their obligations under the Crime and Disorder Act, is a discretionary service and in these economicallychallenging times such services come under threat, but with such high levels of public support, ceasing to provide the service is a difficult decision to make. Nevertheless it needs to be funded and with many ageing systems requiring expensive upgrades justifying the cost will prove difficult.
Furthermore with better regulation around the corner can public space CCTV surveillance operations continue as is currently the case?
Nick Saunders, Director & Principal Consultant, NSG Security Consultants is a former police officer serving 19 years with the Greater Manchester Police, the last three of which were spent as crime prevention officer for a large metropolitan area.