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Last Updated: Tuesday, 9 January 2007, 05:14 GMT
New CCTV unit tackles UK crime
By Chris Vallance
BBC News

CCTV overlooking London
Viido is being tested in Southwark

A new police unit is radically improving the way that CCTV footage is processed.

The eventual aim is to turn the gathering of video evidence into a third forensic specialism alongside DNA analysis and fingerprinting.

There are 4.2 million cameras in the UK but until now there has been no dedicated police unit to deal with the collection and dissemination of CCTV evidence.

If the new Visual Images, Identifications and Detections Office (Viido), based at Southwark Police Station, is judged to be a success it could soon lead to the development of specialist CCTV units across the country.

Specialist knowledge

There's so much CCTV out there that we are simply not using for crime
Deputy Chief Inspector Mick Neville

Viido has a small team made up of police officers, civilian staff and members of the public drawn from a Metropolitan Police volunteering scheme.

Although it was only set up in September, Deputy Chief Inspector Mick Neville, who heads the unit, is pleased with its progress:

He says: "We have produced more images of street robbers in one-32nd of Metropolitan Police than the whole force put together"

Although gathering CCTV might appear no more difficult than programming the video recorder, obtaining images can require specialist knowledge.

DCI Neville explains: "With all CCTV it is not as simple as an officer grabbing a tape. If it's not a simple VHS player they may have to get CDs, or even worse, a hard-drive has to be recovered. Often footage is in multiplex format where there'll be 12 or 20 cameras on the same tape."

New CCTV systems on buses which store images on hard drives have been particularly problematic, and the Viido team has significantly increased the use of this material.

Problems with evidence

According to Mr Neville there have even been issues with playing evidence gathered via CCTV in court.

"DNA was funded end-to-end with scientists and police officers trained. With CCTV the vast majority of the funding went on producing images and there was very little equipment in the courts," he says.

"We've now received Home Office funding and to put additional DVDs and CD players in court."

Montage of CCTV cameras
Viido stands for Visual Images, Identifications and Detections Office
There are currently 4.2 million CCTV cameras in the UK
Viido has a small team made up of police officers, civilian staff and public

But it is not just the collection of data that's key to making CCTV more effective.

Viido's key role is in establishing procedures for identifying and circulating images.

To this end the Viido team ensures that images of suspects are circulated throughout the relevant boroughs and nationally via the Police Gazette.

If the project is a success it will be duplicated across London and may be adopted UK-wide.

For DCI Neville the lack of a forensic specialism dealing with CCTV represents a missed opportunity.

"At the moment there's so much CCTV out there that we are simply not using for crime," he says.

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