Cops, cameras and covert surveillance

December 2005 CCTV, Surveillance & Remote Monitoring

Background

This case study is of a police force in the UK midlands that is responsible for providing policing services in a busy city and surrounding districts. It has four divisions plus its headquarters. The Force has a strategic plan in place not just to reduce crime and anti-social behaviour, but also to reduce the fear of those crimes. It works with the community and its partners to achieve those aims and objectives, and to make a difference to people's lives in the region.

The challenge

The police force wanted to go beyond halting the growth of crime. It recognised that many of the crimes it needed to solve using intelligence-led policing techniques were drug-related. They included volume crimes such as domestic burglary, commercial burglary and distraction burglaries, as well as drug dealing itself, and crimes to fund drug habits. The force wanted to address repeat burglaries, as some properties attract a high number of repeat break-ins. In one example, it took 20 minutes for police to arrive each time a rural building was broken into. Although this was a fairly swift response, it was not quick enough to catch the criminals at the scene.

There are simply not enough resources on duty to cover large geographical areas, and while intelligence was coming into police stations about the activities of suspected criminals, the force did not have the manpower to visit every suspected person or premises to investigate.

The solution

Some divisions and ongoing operations already operated a technical support unit (TSU). They decided to investigate the use of security cameras for covert surveillance and to build evidence about drug-related crimes. In the past, the only solutions available were to use a car with microwave-linked cameras or to use officers on the ground for surveillance operations. All three options were expensive: if officers were used this would cost upwards of £3000 for a 24-hour operation, including one officer to observe and one to write up the log.

The force knew that while a camera would not prevent a crime, it could be used to gather intelligence that would accelerate the identification of criminals, to support forensic evidence and ultimately speed-up their arrest. The MemoCam was selected as it provided a plug-and-play solution that could be deployed quickly and easily, requiring minimal training beforehand, and could remain in the field for long periods without requiring maintenance. The low cost of MemoCam allows a number of cameras to be purchased for the same cost as just one surveillance operation.

They also found out that funding for covert surveillance solutions is available from a number of Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnership (CDRP) initiatives, including the Communities Against Drugs, the Safer Community Initiative and the Building Safer Communities Initiative.

One of the key objectives that all police forces are measured on is the strategy they have in place to provide reassurance to the community that they are addressing crime and disorder. This meant that every time a division TSU submitted a business case to secure funding for MemoCams, the expenditure could be linked directly to CDRP initiatives. Furthermore, every deployment of a camera contributes to the force's reassurance to the community.

Following a successful trial of eight cameras, they invested in around 50 cameras, which are used in one of their divisions. Between 40 and 45 cameras are in use at any one time, all on jobs that normally would not be dealt with because of lack of resources. Due to their success and efficiency, more cameras are scheduled for deployment. A divisional TSU officer said, "If I had 200 cameras I could have them all out on operations straight-away, no matter how many cameras I get, they still will not satisfy the demand."

One of the divisional TSUs has a team of four people trained to use and set up the cameras, and a camera can be set up and fully operational in about half an hour.

The cameras are often used to see where a burglar has been inside a property and to show forensic officers where to look to get the most reliable evidence, such as fingerprints, clothing samples or DNA. This intelligence is then used to make a positive identification that can be used to issue a warrant for arrest.

The cameras are also used to take action following the receipt of intelligence from the public. They can be used to cost effectively prove or disprove that there is something worth investigating - if there is, then valuable resources can be deployed to investigate further, if not, then no further resources need to be used.

The benefits

Before MemoCam, a large amount of intelligence needed to be gathered before dedicating expensive resources to a job. This took time and was costly to pull together. With MemoCam, sufficiently strong evidence can be gathered more quickly and cheaply, and on many more jobs.

For example, if the team suspects that a property is being used for dealing drugs, then a camera can be set up easily and quickly to record whether the property is being visited by an abnormal number of people.

MemoCam is distributed locally by Emergency Reaction Services.

For more information contact Morris Maram, Emergency Reaction Services, 011 234 6000, www.emergencyreaction.com



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