Posts Tagged 'CCTV'

Trust Vs. Mistrust

As a police officer, on an average shift I tend to wear a range of different bits of kit to help assisting me in achieving my daily goal of punching crime on the nose.

Trousers are a given. I have a radio nattering in my ear, a can of CS spray that hasn’t been used once in four years, a torch, a USB stick for downloading CCTV footage, police-issue ‘bracelets’ and a range of other bits and pieces designed to make the job easier.

All in all and including the stab vest that I wear to prevent an anti-social skewering of my organs, the kit weighs about as much as a very small child, a large cat or some other object of equivalent weight to that of my kit.

Now it may seem strange that considering the less than pleasant experience of wearing all of the above on a hot day, I’d be keen to have another gizmo to carry but there is something that I’m keen to be issued that I don’t yet carry.

To quote the Gadget Show, the ‘tech’ I’m interested in is a body worn camera, a subject that I’ve visited before after the story last year about someone wearing an unfashionable pair of Google Glasses witnessing an assault.

Their issue to officers has been in the news again recently in light of the Mark Duggan inquest with the Met suggesting that they’d be worn by their firearms units to help boost transparency.

This can only be a good thing and similar steps have been taken by other forces with Hampshire Constabulary now using them as standard issue and trials of badge type devices being ran in Birmingham and as I understand it, to be extended to other areas of the Midlands too.

I think the feeling amongst many officers is that they’d be supportive of their use as the evidence that they gather is mutually beneficial to both the officers and the public.

For officers, they’d help cut down allegations of misconduct and incivility as interactions would be documented and there’d be no disputing who did what and who said what following incidents.

For the public, they help gather strong, valuable evidence that can be presented to the courts and the benefit of this would likely be fewer not guilty pleas and time saved for both police and the courts accordingly.

Now their introduction wouldn’t be cheap – the bill in Hampshire alone was over quarter of a million pounds – but as an investment considering the potential for future savings and not to mention the public reassurance associated with the transparency that they’d provide, I’m argue that this is worth the cost.

Us officers are proud of the job we do, we want to do that job to the highest quality we can and contrary to what some people might think, the handful of untrustworthy examples brought to light in recent news stories do not represent the other 99% of us.

I’d like to see officers wearing cameras as standard as I know that by doing so, they’d prove what I’ve said above is correct.

P.S. BBC-style disclaimer – Above video used as an example of how the cameras are used only, other brands of camera are available and I’ve no intention of endorsing this camera over any other that is available now, will be available in the future or that could have been brought a hundred years ago when photography was more exciting with hoods and explosive powder.  

First time ever I saw your face…

We can’t guarantee the faces you’ll see will be pretty but still, Facewatch will be a very useful tool in helping us identify villains caught on CCTV.

Follow our force Twitter accounts and on any given day you’re almost certainly going to notice officers mentioning that they’re out making some ‘CCTV enquiries’ at local shops, pubs and clubs.

Being one of our strongest sources of evidence, CCTV is usually the first thing that we check for after some crime has happened and the images captured by the cameras are often the evidence that help convince juries of someone’s guilt.

Important as CCTV is though, it may surprise you how tricky and time consuming it can be to get our sticky hands on those few crucial frames.

As a general rule, it is mandatory that every CCTV system uses its own obscure file format, that every manufacturer has their own complicated viewing software and that neither the files nor the software will be compatible with our own computers.

Not helpful enough?

Throw into the mix that in the CCTV industry, instruction booklets are generally frowned upon and even when we turn up at an incident and find that the world’s most awesome CCTV system was installed only yesterday, its owner will almost certainly not have a clue how to work it.

Sorry, still not helpful enough you say?

I forgot to mention we also have to spend many unhappy hours travelling around the West Midlands seizing discs/USB sticks/VHS cassettes, scribbling out production statements and booking all of this lot into the property store.

Surely there must be an easier way of doing things? Well, turns out there is…

Facewatch is an online system now used in the West Midlands and by other police forces and businesses up and down the country to help make employing CCTV evidence a whole lot quicker, easier and more effective for everyone.

Rather than us rozzers having to go and faff around with discs, unknown CCTV pin codes and ‘.pvr format unrecognised, please upgrade gigabubble codec and reintegrate with matrix’ error messages, everything can be done via the tubes of the interweb.

Using the Facewatch site, a business can both report a crime and upload the relevant CCTV footage straight to the net so that us officers can then pull an evidential package off at the station and commence enquiries without having to do everything manually.

Sound good? It gets better!

Not only are the images shared with ourselves, they can also be uploaded to an online gallery so that other businesses and members of the public can look at them and identify trouble causers.

The public galleries I can see being especially useful as for most offences, we only circulate offender images internally to see if other officers can pick out faces. Having more eyes on the pictures increases the chances that someone will be able to put names to the faces.

This builds on the success of our own galleries on the Wanted and Operation View sections of our website through which members of the public have helped us locate outstanding suspects from the riots.

If you’re a business interested in saving time by using the Facewatch system or a member of the public wanting to help punch crime in its scowling face, you can find out more about the service on their website, their Twitter account or Facebook page.

It’s still in early stages and more images are being added daily, but take a look at the Facewatch ID site to see some of the images already uploaded and check out the mobile app too for some ‘on the move’ crime fighting.

CCTV footage can be a very effective, damning form of evidence. Facewatch makes it even more effective for us and even more inconvenient for the criminals, tipping the balance further in our favour. Hurrah!

Idiot, slow down…

Just a quick post this and one I’ve decided to pick up on for two reasons.

Firstly, the video is part of a witness appeal that we’re making to identify the driver of the black Audi.

The collision happened just before 7.30pm on Friday December 7th last year on King William Street, Hillfields, Coventry. A partial registration for the Audi was taken by a witness as ‘EN57′, we’re asking for anyone with knowledge of the vehicle or incident to contact us directly on 101 or anonymously via Crimestoppers to let tell us what they can.

Secondly, even if you can’t help us with the appeal itself, the video is a valuable reminder to other road users that the consequences of letting driving standards slip, even momentarily, can be very sudden and very severe indeed.

That the woman and toddler hit came away with only minor injuries is rightly described as a ‘miracle escape’, it could have been much, much worse.

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.

Win that ball, head for the goal, use your stealth, don’t lose control…

A Day In The LifeParading at Aston Police Station, Saturday March 31st 2012, Tour of Duty – 09:30 to 18:00

Alongside all of the regular constables who are assigned to work at the big football matches in the Midlands, a small team of specialist officers from the Football Unit attend the games to help ensure that everything runs smoothly. This shift I joined them for the Aston Villa v Chelsea game, kick off at 15:00.

The Football Unit work out of Aston Police Station so I head over there and am greeted by PC Bladen who was busily updating the Unit’s official twitter page giving fans directions about how best to get to the ground and which pubs to head to. We have a quick tour of the office and I am introduced to two Metropolitan Police officers who have traveled up with the Chelsea fans.

Each force operates a similar types of football units and the officers get to know each other as they travel around the country exchanging information on upcoming features such as who’s likely to attend and what the potential is for trouble.

Being police officers we’re always hungry so first things first we hop into the CCTV van and head into Erdington for one of the biggest breakfasts I’ve ever seen. Remember the Big Breakfast on TV? Well, it was a bigger breakfast than that. It was fantastic, although it did mean I wouldn’t have been able to chase anyone for the next hour or so!

Big breakfasts done we pile back into the van and head over the the city centre where officers from the British Transport Police have indicated that away fans are now beginning to arrive. The van is equipped with a variety of cameras and monitoring equipment, however it’s only used when needed and as there weren’t any issues remained switched off.

One of the main roles of the Football Unit is to spot and deter trouble early on. To this end the officers know the names and faces of the ringleaders and are able to advise the control room of any concerns.

The fans today were pretty much all in good spirits and after an hour or so checking the bars in the town centre, we moved back towards the Villa ground where the bulk of the fans were now heading. The turnstiles were open, the police in place and supporters were disembarking their coaches and wondering towards the ground chanting “Villa!” (mainly the Villa fans) and “Chelsea!” (mainly the Chelsea fans) as they did so.

Officers are positioned at the turnstiles on the lookout for anyone too drunk to enter (it’s against the law to try and enter a designated game whilst drunk) whilst the Football Unit head out on foot and mix in with the crowd.

Just after kickoff time we head into the ground too, entering via Villa Park’s own custody suite, and take our place in the corner of the ground between the home and away fans*. It’s at this point that I realise just how loud a bunch of loud Londoners can be – very loud indeed. They shout and scream and then Chelsea score which does nothing to clam them down whilst the Villa fans exchange ‘pleasantries’ with their visitors and sing songs about Torres not scoring.

Standing between the two groups, the Football Unit officers scan the crowds on the lookout for anyone getting a little too excited and are ready to act if necessary but don’t need to as the fans are too busy bouncing up and down to cause any real trouble.

After a half time tea we head back to our vantage point and watch the fans as they become more and more excited with Villa equalising, only for Ivanovic to think “I don’t think so” and score another goal to pull Chelsea into the lead again with only minutes to go to full time.

Four minutes extra time are added, Villa aren’t able to add any goals to their tally and so the lose with the final blow of the whistle. The Football Unit now moves back outside the game and continue to monitor the fans, escorting one large group of Chelsea fans down to the train station where they are whisked away into New Street.

With the match over and the fans slowly melting away, the job of the Football Unit is nearly done for another match day. We climb back into the CCTV van and check on a few of the pubs to find that they are nearly empty before heading back to the station for a debrief and a packed lunch.

The game has gone well (for the Football Unit and Chelsea at least) and in total I believe there was only one arrest which isn’t bad going considering the tens of thousands attending. I take off my stab vest and equipment belt, pocket a couple of KitKat Crunchies from the lunch box and head home looking forward to watching Match of the Day.

* By which I obviously mean football fans, not soap fans.

The Football Unit's CCTV van.

Patrolling near the Doug Ellis Stand at Villa Park.

Inside the stadium with one of the Inspectors watching over the (very loud) Chelsea fans.

Nearing the end of the match, officers from the Football Unit watch over the fans.

To see tweets from yesterday’s game, search the hashtag #footballunit, for more photos from the match please see the Facebook gallery and if you’re interested in the Aston Villa Football Unit you can follow them on Twitter. The other regional teams have accounts too, see here for a list.

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