The local Safer Neighbourhoods Panel often discusses the use the police make of CCTV in the area. South Kings Cross was smothered with CCTV in the mid nineties to tackle the then endemic problems with street crime. The street sex workers and street drug dealers have largely moved on – thanks in large part to the use of ASBOs by Camden and the police.
Feedback from the people who work with the local Safer Neighbourhoods Panel/Team suggests less than full confidence in the way CCTV is being used today to tackle anti-social behaviour. In particular the way the cameras on Northdown Street and Bridgeman Road are used. The police have I understand responded to this feedback by putting more resources into watching the pictures. But they the police have often found control of the CCTV systems frustrating. The Home Office has published a ‘National CCTV Strategy’ that makes many points we could sympathise with locally:
‘The development of CCTV in the UK has resulted in a public space CCTV surveillance infrastructure that is the envy of many police forces around the world. The operational benefits of such a system are considerable, especially in the investigation of crime. The proliferation of CCTV systems, whilst presenting the police with evidence gathering opportunities, has raised issues in terms of their capacity to recover the images and review the tapes to establish whether they contain evidence.’
‘The development of the technology has outpaced the ability of the police service to respond to the operational opportunities. The lack of a national strategy or a co-ordinated approach to the development of CCTV has led to an ad hoc response that is less than adequate and fails to maximise the significant
potential afforded by CCTV.’ (Chapter 5.3 page 28)
We see residents using video for campaigning on anti-social behaviour (such as planning and noise). Videos are easy and free to make and distribute these days. On the Andover estate young people even took on Anne Widdecombe. My local films have had over 8,000 views on YouTube. A prototype resident CCTV is now running on Rufford Street (use ‘demo’ as username no password and hit enter – only running in the daytime). I even wrote an article on local video for the Community Media Association’s Airflash magazine. You could almost say that residents, with no resources other than a visceral desire to make the community better were showing more imaginative use of video than the police and the council.
The Home Office strategy makes a range of criticisms of the relationship between the police and CCTV centre operators, such as the Local Authority. It also suggests the more could be done to keep up with new technologies and that the police should seek to gain access to private CCTV systems run by individuals and companies. Wonderfully it appears that many bits of the legal system can’t play back videos. Residents might be better off looking at police CCTV over the internet for themselves.