Page last updated at 13:43 GMT, Tuesday, 6 May 2008 14:43 UK

CCTV boom 'failing to cut crime'

Criminals caught on CCTV

Huge investment in closed-circuit TV technology has failed to cut UK crime, a senior police officer has warned.

Det Ch Insp Mick Neville said the system was an "utter fiasco" - with only 3% of London's street robberies being solved using security cameras.

Although Britain had more cameras than any other European country, he said "no thought" had gone into how to use them.

Det Ch Insp Neville heads a unit which is piloting a new database to track offenders using CCTV.

Speaking at the Security Document World Conference in London, Det Ch Insp Neville, the head of the Met's Visual Images, Identifications and Detections Office (Viido), said one of the problems was that criminals were not afraid of cameras.

There's no fear of CCTV. Why don't people fear it? [They think] the cameras are not working
Det Ch Insp Mick Neville
Metropolitan Police

He also said more training was needed for officers who often avoided trawling through CCTV images "because it's hard work".

"CCTV was originally seen as a preventative measure," the Guardian quotes him as saying.

"Billions of pounds has been spent on kit, but no thought has gone into how the police are going to use the images and how they will be used in court. It's been an utter fiasco: only 3% of crimes were solved by CCTV.

"There's no fear of CCTV. Why don't people fear it? [They think] the cameras are not working."

New database

CCTV operators also needed more feedback to ensure they felt "valued", he said.

Det Ch Insp Neville's unit is now piloting a new database of CCTV images which police hope will help track and identify offenders.

The unit is also looking at ways of using software which can follow distinctive brand logos on the clothing of unidentified suspects.

The contribution of CCTV to the detection of crime is likely to equal that of DNA and fingerprints
Graeme Gerrard, Deputy Chief Constable of Cheshire Police

In addition, from next month, his team will be putting images of suspects in muggings, rape and robbery cases on the internet.

"If criminals see that CCTV works they are less likely to commit crimes," Det Ch Insp Neville added.

Graeme Gerrard is the Deputy Chief Constable of Cheshire Police, and ACPO lead on CCTV. He believes the contribution of CCTV to the detection of crime is "likely to equal that of DNA and fingerprints".

But he admitted that it is not without flaws: "The CCTV network in the UK has been built up in a piecemeal way, driven by local authorities and the private sector more than by the police.

"Better training and more intelligent use of the technology are important to the future development of how we use CCTV," he added.

4.2 million cameras

According to the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS), CCTV has not failed. They say it has helped reduce crime in the capital.

"The comments made by DCI Mike Neville reflect the need for police to make the best possible use of available footage and exploit its benefits both in crime prevention and detection." an MPS spokesperson said.

If criminals see that CCTV works they are less likely to commit crimes
Det Ch Insp Mick Neville
Metropolitan Police

Ken Pease, from the Jill Dando Institute of Crime Science, at University College London, said looking through hours of footage could be "tedious" for officers.

"If you look at the data, and I have done some of the research myself, they do have an effect.

"The thing is the effect wears off, and it wears off for the reasons that are pretty clear - which is the non-use of the very tedious job of sifting through footage for less than very serious crimes."

One study suggests there may be more than 4.2 million CCTV cameras in the UK - the majority on private property - but until Viido was set up in September 2006 there had been no dedicated police unit to deal with the collection and dissemination of CCTV evidence.

If Viido, based at Southwark Police Station, is judged to be a success it could lead to the development of specialist CCTV units across the country.

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