A major research study into CCTV and crime in Australia by Bond University, undertaken on behalf of the Australian Research Council and published at the end of 2006, raised some important issues regarding the effective implementation of CCTV*.
A critical conclusion of the research report indicates that "findings from the observational study indicated that the effectiveness of CCTV may be very much dependent on a whole range of issues but in particular the monitoring strategies adopted by camera operators."
The researchers go on to state that "most incidents captured by CCTV were highly visible behavioural incidents such as assaults rather than less visible incidents... This goes some way in explaining why many of the studies of CCTV effectiveness often show only modest gains."
These research findings reflect points that I have made on a number of occasions in previous articles. Operators are not only critical parts of a successful CCTV system, but one cannot assume that anybody has the necessary observation and detection skills to do the job. Further, besides selecting the right people who have these kinds of capabilities, operators need training to gain the insights into how to detect subtle indicators of incidents. It is not enough to train CCTV personnel in how to use equipment and procedures. The critical success factors are providing skills to observe, analyse and detect the behaviours that are associated with incidents. While experience is seen as an important aspect of gaining these insights, I have seen in training that even personnel who have been involved for many years in CCTV still have much to learn in incident detection.
The right person for the job
The need for appropriate personnel has major implications for organisations who are appointing operators, as CCTV is increasingly becoming more popular and the number of sites is rising substantially. Personnel are being drawn into the industry with no real consideration of how they are prepared to effectively operate the systems to deliver results. This presents a very real threat to installers and providers of systems, as the expectations of clients are not going to be met, and much of the disappointment is going to be directed at the providers of the technical systems.
The Bond University report notes that "installing more cameras, 'better' cameras, in wider areas, with less active monitoring is counterproductive."
I was contacted recently by a company that had previously been a good example of how to implement effective CCTV. The company had initially put personnel through strict selection procedures, and we had provided in-depth training to personnel. Detection rates had been high and general management was enthusiastically supporting the use of CCTV.
Since then, the company had appointed several other contractors as providers of CCTV operators, probably due to lower costs of the contracts, and had lost all their initial operators. After about three years, the company had called me to ask where they could get good operators who could provide them with the same kind of service that it had experienced initially.
The bottom line is the best way of getting the kind of people you want is to develop them for your operation (note that the first step of the company concerned has been to re-implement the strict operator selection criteria for contracted personnel). With the need for new operators outstripping demand, the level of personnel being provided is often going to be questionable. If companies continue to use cost as the basis for staffing CCTV control rooms, they can only blame themselves.
The Australian study reinforces this point by noting that the provision of specialised training in how to detect incidents can lead to high increases in detection rates.
Recently, I have seen huge cost benefits from organisations working together with their security personnel contractors to provide for good and trained personnel. Where organisations wanting effective CCTV are prepared to pay for the necessary standard of personnel required, and help the people get to these standards through appropriate development programmes, CCTV will deliver the desired results.
*Crime and CCTV in Australia: Understanding the Relationship. Helene Wells, Troy Allard, Paul Wilson. Bond University, Australia, 2006.
Dr Craig Donald is a human factors specialist in security and CCTV. He is a director of Leaderware, which provides instruments for the selection of CCTV operators, X-ray screeners and other security personnel in major operations around the world. He also runs CCTV Surveillance Skills and Body Language, and Advanced Surveillance Body Language courses for CCTV operators, supervisors and managers internationally, and consults on CCTV management. He can be contacted on +27 (0)11 787 7811 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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