Page last updated at 12:00 GMT, Monday, 20 July 2009 13:00 UK

Police 'not using CCTV properly'

Det Ch Insp Neville says CCTV operators need more training, but more cameras are not needed

The police are failing to use CCTV to catch as many criminals as they could, a senior officer has told the BBC.

Det Ch Insp Mick Neville of the Met police's CCTV unit said most forces do not have systems to retrieve, process and distribute CCTV crime scene images.

Officers in some London boroughs are failing to solve any tier one and two crimes such as serious assaults and robberies using CCTV, he added.

A new study says there may be a million fewer UK CCTV cameras than thought.

'Gone wrong'

DCI Neville told the BBC's The World At One and Newsnight that, while his own force had made errors, the picture for the rest of the country "isn't good".

He added: "Because we had CCTV first, we made all the mistakes.

"And the mistake was spend it on kit, don't spend it on people or processes and that's what's gone wrong.

"Unless there is a systematic way of gathering CCTV then it will continue not to be as effective as it could be."

"What I would say," he continued, "is we've got enough cameras, let's stop now, we don't want any more cameras.

"Let's invest that money that's available and use it for the training of people, and the processes to make sure whatever we've captured is effectively used."

His comments come as the government is considering whether every CCTV camera in the country should be registered and whether the entire industry should be regulated.

'Install base'

New research seen by the BBC suggests there may actually be one million fewer CCTV cameras in the UK than has previously been thought.

A consultancy company, IMS Research, which produces an annual report on video surveillance worldwide based on global sales of CCTV cameras, has calculated that there are 3.2 million cameras in the UK.

Residents actually like CCTV, its makes them feel safe, it makes them feel secure
James Cousins,
Wandsworth Council

The figure contrast starkly with the widely quoted figure of 4.2 million cameras which was based on the work of two researchers in 2002.

But even if there are a million fewer cameras than has long been assumed, we still appear to use CCTV much more than other countries.

Using Freedom of Information requests, we asked almost 100 local authorities in the UK how many CCTV cameras they operate.

We also spoke to several cities around the world to gauge their use of the cameras and from the numbers we obtained we discovered some startling facts.

Both the Shetland Islands Council (101) and Corby Borough Council (90) - among the smallest local authorities in the UK - have more CCTV cameras than the San Francisco Police Department (71).

Eight British cities have more CCTV cameras than the authorities in Paris.

The London borough of Wandsworth has as many CCTV cameras (1,113) as Dublin City Council, the Police departments of Johannesburg and Boston and the City of Sydney authority combined.

James Cousins from Wandsworth Council defended the widespread use of CCTVs.

He said: "Residents actually like CCTV, its makes them feel safe, it makes them feel secure.

"We're not doing this because we want to watch people; we're not doing it because we think watching people is the solution to all the problems.

"We're doing it because we think it's a great tool to actually make Wandsworth a safer place."

'Investigative tool'

Despite Mick Neville's observations, senior police officers continue to support CCTV and believe it is a valuable crime-fighting tool.

Cheshire's Deputy Chief Constable, Graeme Gerrard, who speaks on CCTV matters on behalf of the Association of Chief Police Officers, pointed to the high profile cases the cameras have helped solve.

He added: "What is the value to London to have suicide bombers who failed in their first attempt arrested and detained before they were allowed to act again? How do you put a value on that?

"But CCTV was instrumental in that as a form of investigative tool."

Watch Michael Buchanan's CCTV investigation in full on Newsnight on Monday, 20 July 2009 at 2230 BST on BBC Two.

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