Insights into public CCTV trends in the UK in 2013

September 2013 News & Events, Surveillance

Dr Craig Donald receiving the CCTV User Group Award from Director Peter Fry for "Exceptional Service to the CCTV Industry and Support to the CCTV User Group" - Photo courtesy of Tom Reeve
Dr Craig Donald receiving the CCTV User Group Award from Director Peter Fry for "Exceptional Service to the CCTV Industry and Support to the CCTV User Group" - Photo courtesy of Tom Reeve

I was privileged recently to speak again at the CCTV User Group Conference in the UK near Stratford upon Avon. It is the fifth time I’ve presented a paper at these conferences and it has allowed me to track the developments in CCTV over the years.

It provides a good defining picture of what is happening in CCTV in the UK, with various prominent government and industry speakers often involved. Attendance at this year’s conference showed a good increase in numbers for the first time in a few years, hopefully reflecting a slight improvement in the state of the economy which has hit CCTV operations hard. There were a range of highly prominent speakers, including the Surveillance Camera Commissioner, the main government CCTV representatives, Jim Aldridge, and some of the leading control room managers at various sites.

The conference highlighted a few key areas in 2012, mostly shaped by the fact that the last few years has seen CCTV in UK public areas under major funding strain, with rationalisation and even control rooms closing in worst cases. Measures taken have included looking at cost cutting in reducing staff, more affordable transmission, merging units or amalgamating cost purchasing to get benefits of bulk orders, and equipment upgrades delayed among others.

Some centres have moved into private business arrangements with clients, challenging established monitoring centres like ADT. This has included incorporating more alarm monitoring, call centre activities, private commercial surveillance for business and individuals, and help lines particularly for more vulnerable members of society.

This has allowed some enterprising CCTV and multi-function operations such as that at Bristol City Council to thrive under these conditions, albeit through some hard work and astute management. However, the majority of sites clearly feel the cost pressures and the amount of actual surveillance has decreased within many operations.

The contrast between UK city surveillance schemes and those in South Africa could not be more marked – places like Durban, PE and Cape Town are expanding their coverage and personnel, demonstrating effectiveness in focused CCTV operations, and playing a major part in crime prevention. UK CCTV operations can only dream of having such manpower availability.

The UK CCTV approach remains dominated by issues related to human rights, legislation, codes of practice and procedure. However, government changes and different approaches in the coalition government in the UK has led to much discussion and slow progress on agreements for regulating the industry. The CCTV Guidelines document initiated by the Association of Chief Police Officers has been sidelined, to be replaced by a proposed code of practice which is more restricted in scope but retains some good practice content.

Regulator bodies including the SIA are in transition as to how the industry and staff must be regulated, but finalisation and clarity on what is going to happen is unclear. The UK has always provided guiding standards for CCTV, but this has been thrown into a degree of chaos by political, social and economic demands. In some ways, it seems that the industry is having to justify itself to those very people it is there to protect, and sometimes society seems somewhat ungrateful for the privilege, as privacy and other concerns clash with policing and community protection.

Mick Neville, who delivered the keynote presentation at iLegal a couple of years ago, got up in a hard hitting presentation stating that the Data Protection Act, Human Rights Act and various other legislation and policies had not done anything to catch people. He emphasised that a new CCTV identification unit at New Scotland Yard had made major strides in doing just that, and they continue to catch people who were involved in the riots in London and other areas just over two years ago.

Besides his comments, the contrast of the general UK approach in comparison to South Africa was highlighted in my presentation where I indicated how CCTV operations here in South Africa are focused far more on detecting crime and catching people, and while we have a respect for human rights, we have a far higher priority on creating safer and more protected environments. I compared training in the UK with what we do in South Africa in terms of surveillance and body language and contrasted their ‘legislative’ and procedural correctness approach to doing surveillance with our action in trying to focus on detection.

A presentation by Jim Aldridge focused on the process of effective CCTV implementation and in some sense showed a return to getting the basics right. Informative, practical and useful, the presentation showed a great deal more sense than much of the more recent material coming from the Home Office. The conference exhibition stands showed that technology solutions continue to improve, but the implementation is at a slower rate given the circumstances that control rooms are faced with.

Console design has definitely improved, with the major console manufacturers represented in the exhibition area showing more innovation and concern for human factors. Integration of systems is still an area of continuing improvement and focus, and camera technologies are improving, although use of things like thermal cameras are probably at a higher level in South Africa. Use of information is becoming more established in guiding CCTV. Video analytics has become far less of a buzz word and is less prominent, with people seeing it in a more realistic sense where it has to justify its cost and effectiveness.

CCTV in the UK is currently going through a period of consolidation. As the economy improves and council funding becomes less constrained, no doubt it will continue to help define the industry world wide. The political landscape becoming more settled would also help the industry substantially. A presentation on future technologies by the User Group Chairman, Peter Webster, showed that people are looking forward to the future. However, it is interesting how the baton is being carried forward by other counties in the meantime, levering off the early UK experiences.


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