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Monday, May 21, 2007


The truth about CCTV

Now in my day to day I have a fair bit of contact with the people who work the cameras for CCTV. The good operators are a positive boon in time of need and I have nothing but praise for them; they take your requests seriously and don’t ask stupid questions like “How do you know it’s been broken into?” or don’t believe you when you call in with a potentially serious situation like a quite obvious stalker.

The problems I’ve come across when working is that cameras are just that, cameras. Lenses get streaked with water when it’s raining, or the council has bought cheap tat for a relay or camera and the definition is utter crap (This is more common than you might think) and a camera twenty metres away cannot even read a vehicles number plate, even in perfect lighting conditions. (This happened to me recently)

Certain cameras are poorly sited and only cover 30% of the area they are supposed to cover. Bunting and flags erected for special occasions can block their view, not to mention heavy foliage in spring and summer. Also, they tend to suffer from a restricted field of vision, because of the very nature of lenses they can only focus, even with digital technology, over a 90 degree field of view. True they can swivel within their mounts etc, but what this boils down to is that if the camera ain’t pointing, the operator can’t see it or know when to hit the ‘record’ button. Not only that, but most cameras have ‘blind’ spots where they cannot ‘see’, such as for example, a radius (Sometimes tens of metres wide) directly below the camera and not covered by other cameras as very few camera mounts will allow them to see directly downwards. This can often be obviated by siting each camera within view of another – but not always, which if one were to produce a map of coverage, it would prove very sketchy indeed. Such a ‘map’ would thus demonstrate that certain areas are covered very well, whilst others are effectively ‘invisible’ for much of the time.

As for ‘Big brother’ surveillance. Well there are a number of hoops the local Police have to jump through to get hold of CCTV evidence, and no, there’s no centralisation of these things (As yet, thank God). There was an account of the aforesaid hoop jumping on the subject over at PC Bloggs a while back, where she wrote about how difficult it could be getting the CCTV images required.

Here is how you play a DVD clip on a Blandmore police computer:
  • Load up the clip.

  • Find it is incompatible with Windows 98 (as is everything).

  • Phone up IT and ask them what to do.

  • Fill in a form.

  • Submit the form online and by post. This is sufficient if you really can't work the fax machine.

  • Wait for two-three days while it receives Approval from the Budget-Meisters.

  • Not Approved.

  • Send the clip to Tech Services.

  • Wait three weeks.

  • Receive a VHS tape back from Tech Services.

  • Search the station for a video-recorder.

  • Locate one at last.

  • Search the station for a working television.

  • Locate one at last.

  • Play the clip.

  • Discover that all quality has been lost in the transfer from digital to video, and the offender is now just a pulsating ball of static.

On the other hand; where CCTV does work well is with a beat presence ‘on the shop floor’ as it were. For example; a freshly stolen vehicle was followed through town recently by our lot in the following exchanges over the radio. You’ll have to put up with the fact that I have shortened the gaps between sightings considerably. Patrol numbers, call signs, registrations and road names have all been changed to protect both guilty and innocent.

From my own point of view I quite enjoy these little interludes; they break up the plodding routine of the day, and you can almost hear the adrenalin over the air.

Cameras. “This is a message from Cameras to all Parking Wardens. Please be on the lookout for a Black Audi A6, registration Golf Oscar Zero Seven, Zulu Oscar Delta. Vehicle last seen exiting Quick Street.”
“Cameras, this is 411. Vehicle entered Holland Road northbound.”
“Cameras, this is 543. Repeat VRM please.”
“543, registration Golf Oscar Zero Seven, Zulu, Oscar Delta.”
“Cameras, this is 514. Vehicle seen heading through Low Road towards High street at speed.”
“611 here. He’s taken a left into Rough End Lane.”
“Cameras to all Parking Wardens. The vehicle has been stopped by Police. Thanks all.”

Here’s another radio transcript account of how one of our lot got serious verbal from a driver who had obviously been drinking and got a little instant justice for once.

“Cameras, this is 511, over.”
“Go 511.”
“Got a problem customer just been swearing at me for booking his car. He smells like he’s been drinking. Can you get a camera on me please? Corner of High and Low Street.”
“Just a moment 511. Okay, I have you. I see him.”
“511 here cameras, he’s getting back into his car in the bus stop.”
“Registration please 511.”
“Registration is Zulu Foxtrot Five Four Alpha Mike Tango. Red Peugeot 307, over.”
“Confirmed. I’m passing this to despatch.”

Ten minutes later I’m walking down Houghton Road a mile across town and watch the Red Peugeot being pulled over by a double crewed Police car. The news comes back to us ten minutes later that the driver was well over the limit and had been arrested for Drink Driving. Result.

My point is that CCTV is not the whole answer to crime and needs people on the street to really make it work. Real Police, PCSO’s, shop security, Us; whoever. Without feet on the street it’s rather two dimensional.

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Blogger herbertbauer said...

"Every Step You Take" is an excellent new critical documentary about video surveillance in Britain (it has just premiered at a film festival in Austria where I've seen it, but it's coming to Britain / US soon).

Trailer and much more here:

Tuesday, May 22, 2007 1:09:00 pm  
Blogger dickiebo said...

And now - on the News this morning - we are going to have the best of both worlds. Cameras mounted on Wardens' heads!
You couldn't make it up.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007 9:27:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's the link


Friday, May 25, 2007 12:48:00 pm  

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Exasperated expatriate expostulations all the way from British Columbia, Canada. As if anyone really cared. Oh, I also watch Icelandic Volcanoes and seismic activity. Don't ask me why.

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