Posts Tagged 'cameras'

We’re the stars of CCTV…

As you can see from the above video, criminals are an an ugly lot. They’re so unpleasant to look at that they don’t want to offend anyone else with their horrible looks and so often wear their hoodies done up as tightly as possible, dodge mirrors and in all cases avoid CCTV cameras like the plague.

CCTV is one of the best lines of investigation we as police have and one of the first questions an officer is likely to ask when attending an incident is ‘are there any cameras covering the area?’. Good quality footage is very hard to argue against and when shown images of their own faces during interview, even the slowest burglar is likely to recognise that denial of the offence is futile.

Because CCTV is so useful to us in solving crimes, should you consider a system for your home and if the answer is yes (see the below paragraph) then what’s the best advice for installing cameras and are there any legal considerations to take into account?

As you may have guessed, my advice would be that investing in a good CCTV system is one of the best steps you can take to protect your home from opportunistic miscreants. There are two main advantages – one, that footage of an offender is invaluable in the course of an investigation and two, that merely having visible cameras provides a powerful deterrent.

When I say ‘invest’, CCTV needn’t be expensive with a search on the site of a popular online retailer named after a large South American rainforest revealing that systems are available for as little as £60. Dummy cameras are even less.

The range of systems in mind, it’s always best to go for the highest specification kit in your price bracket as when it comes to CCTV footage the most important consideration is image quality. We often view recordings on lower end systems in which the offenders appear like spooky, misty ghosts who pop up in one frame and then are gone not even allowing us to take a clothing description. This is obviously little help to us.

Many systems offer capabilities such as night vision and motion sensors, record onto a hard drive and can be played back through a television. If you’re keen on your gadgets, some even can be connected to the internet meaning that you can access your CCTV from anywhere in the world and view footage live on a computer or smart phone.

As for where you position the cameras, this is a choice limited by how many cameras you have at your disposal however if you only have one or two I’d be tempted to prioritise the rear of your property as many break ins occur with offenders gaining entry through rear or side facing windows and doors.

How well overlooked your house is will make a difference to where you might want to position your cameras with the idea being that criminals are going to be attracted to the entry points not overlooked and so this is where your cameras are best placed. If you have a front drive and particularly if you have some nice motors sitting on said drive, a camera covering your cars is always a good bet too.

With the system installed and the cameras recording the next thing you’ll need to do is to make sure that you know how to access the footage itself. You may be surprised at how often, both in private houses and shops, people will have excellent CCTV but no idea how to view it and even less knowledge of how to burn a copy to a disc.

As it seems to be an unwritten law that every CCTV system must run on different software and has to record in a different format, it’s really helpful to us that the person with the cameras knows how it works and has some discs available to make us a copy of the footage.

The other important thing is that the time is right on your time stamp. I’ve lost track of how often I’ve struggled to work out what time frame we need to be reviewing when the system is set incorrectly. It’s usually the case of “Well, your camera is one hour and forty two minutes fast, that clock over there is six hours and eight minutes slow and with the clocks going back an hour at 02:00 last night I think we need to set the date for around about 17:59 on 03/06/1996 and watch from there” – confusing!

What about the law though? Are CCTV cameras installed at home covered by any legislation and could you get into trouble by installing cameras?

First of all, whilst businesses have to comply with the principles of the Data Protection Act the same does not apply to people using CCTV for purely ‘domestic purposes’ at home. This means you don’t have to put up signs warning others that you’re using cameras and don’t – unless you really want to – have to assign someone to be the ‘data controller’ or ‘data king’. It also means there’s not an issue if your camera covers part of a public street.

What you do need to do though is to bare in mind that your neighbours have a right to privacy and so you can’t infringe on that right by, for example, directing a camera right at their house. This could be seen as an violation of their right to privacy under the Human Rights Act and potentially could also form the basis of a harassment complaint.

The other legal consideration – civil this time – is whether you need planning permission for your cameras. This mainly applies to any of you reading this blog from inside a castle or stately home. Planning permission is only something you’re likely to need if you live in a listed building or a conservation area so if you do, check with your council before sorting out camera coverage for your moat.

CCTV regularly forms an important part of the case against all sorts of criminal activities and so can be an invaluable weapon in both the prevention, and detection, of crime.

Setting yourself up with a decent system is a sure step to ensuring that the criminals’ ugly faces end up where they belong – on film and then behind bars.

I’ve seen clouds from both sides now…

A police car screams past your office building and moments later you hear the clatter of helicopter blades. Looking out your window you crane your neck to spot a yellow and blue machine hovering a few hundred meters above you. It slowly circles around the same spot as other marked police vehicles pass in the same direction, through the red lights and on into the distance.

What exactly is happening though? This is something I always wondered before joining the job and indeed something I still wonder when I’m off duty and see the force helicopter, ‘Alpha Oscar One‘, buzzing overhead.

The helicopter itself is based at Birmingham Airport and is a Eurocopter EC–135P2i. Nerdy plane spotters like me will be absolutely thrilled to know that it has a top speed of 160 mph, a range of around 400 miles, can fly for three and a half hours and reach a ceiling of 10,000 ft. Stats aside, what might it be doing when you see it floating above?

The first situation, and probably the most common, in which the helicopter is deployed is when we have a suspect pinned down in a certain area and need someone with a bird’s eye view to help us locate him or her. Commonly this will be when we’ve pursued someone and have a reasonable containment of an area so that we’re able to say to the officers on board the helicopter, “The offender is hiding somewhere inside these woods, can you tell where he is?”.

The helicopter crew can then use their cameras and thermal imaging gear to pick out the suspect and direct our units on the ground towards his position and make the arrest. The capability of the crew to use body heat to track someone down means that the cover of darkness is denied to a suspect and the helicopter has a thirty million candlepower searchlight to help illuminate large areas so that we can see where we need to head. Oddly enough the helicopter is also equipped with a siren, presumably so it can warn slower helicopters to move aside and let it past as it makes its way towards incidents. Probably…

Aside searching, the helicopter is also invaluable to tracking high speed pursuits involving our traffic units. The evidence collected by the high definition video camera can be taken to court to help secure a conviction and as the crew are tracking the progress of the chase, can instruct other resources in the right direction so that they can help including telling officers when they might want to pull out the stinger and bring the pursuit to a conclusion by puncturing the offending vehicle’s tires.

Having a video camera means that the helicopter can be useful in all sorts of situations where an aerial view of an event might prove useful. Images can be beamed live to the control room and help senior officers make decisions about how to police football matches, public demonstrations and the like.

The rear of the helicopter provides a cargo space that can be quickly adapted to transport casualties from the scene of an accident to the nearest hospital. This is particularly useful at night as some of the air ambulances are not equipped with the necessary kit to enable them to land in built up areas during the hours of darkness.

Working with the helicopter can be quite exciting as not only can we see it and know that it’s there to help us, we can also hear it on our radio channel with the sound of the engine prominent in the background when the crew speak to us. It is a great resource that we can rely on when we require it and the psychological impact alone is often enough to get the criminal to come out with his hands up, knowing that his body heat will betray him and that’s it’s pointless to try and run.

P.S. You can find out more about Alpha Oscar One by visiting their website and can also follow them on Twitter by visiting their regularly updated profile, @WMP_Helicopter. They’ve also got a Twitpic account on which they’re publishing some of the photos the crew have taken from the air.


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