Posts Tagged 'Human Rights'

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.

All of Rubin’s cards were marked in advance, the trial was a pig-circus, he never had a chance…

The trap is set... or is it?

Not too long ago an officer I know was sat in his unmarked vehicle on a car park at a local supermarket. Looking around he noticed a well known criminal, let’s call him Billy, loitering about. Knowing it was likely Billy was up to no good he continued to watch and did not have to wait long before Billy proved his instincts correct. Billy sidled up to an unattended car, broke in and began removing items from the glove box.

Unfortunately for Billy no sooner had he done so he found himself tackled to the ground and placed under arrest. A short trip to the cells later, Billy was interviewed but protested his innocence claiming he was a victim of ‘entrapment’.

What is entrapment though and why was Billy very much not a victim of anything other than his own stupidity?

In England and Wales, entrapment is where a person has been enticed into committing an offence that they otherwise would not have committed. To claim that a person has been the subject of entrapment is to say that police have provoked them into the commission of a crime. It is to say that they have not broken the law voluntarily, that the circumstances have been engineered to ensure their guilt.

Arguments about entrapment can be relevant both when it comes to obtaining evidence relating to an offence which has already been committed and also in securing evidence for crimes that have not yet happened.

When it comes to deciding whether evidence should be excluded because it has been obtained by entrapment, the courts will consider things such as how difficult a particular offence is to detect and whether the crime investigated is particularly prominent is a certain area. Evidence obtained through a degree of entrapment is not automatically excluded, it is down to the court to decide the necessity for the police’s course of action.

As entrapment involves enticing someone to break the law, simply providing them with an opportunity to do so is not likely to qualify as entrapment. This means that undercover ‘sting’ operations – sending scruffy-looking officers to buy drugs off a street trader for example – would not amount to entrapment as the officer has done no more than given the dealer an opportunity to ply his trade, allowing him to voluntarily break the law in the process.

So was Billy the victim of a cruel police entrapment? He hadn’t been provoked into breaking into the car, nothing has been set up to ensure he did so and the fact that he did it right in front of a police officer was his own misfortune. A victim of entrapment he was not.

I’m conquered in a car seat, and I’m lookin’ straight at you…

This is what most police stakeouts actually look like. Probably.

The stakeout is a big part of any decent cop film. Two lonely cops sitting in their car for hours at a time, eating junk food and watching nothing happen at a shady address across the street. Is it this simple though in real life?

The short answer is yes. And no.

Whilst a decent stakeout will almost certainly involve doughnuts and boredom, it will also involve getting the proper legal authorisation to be ‘stakeouting’ in the first place.

In England the capability for public bodies to carry out surveillance is covered by the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000, also known by time pressed, acronym fond police officers as ‘RIPA’. This Act tells public organisations such as the police, councils and even, when he’s in the UK, James Bond, what they can and can’t do when it comes to covert investigations and the collection of private information.

The Act is important as without there being proper legislation and scrutiny in place, covert surveillance could be seen as in infringement on Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights which grants everyone the right to ‘respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence’.

Article 8 is one of the Convention’s ‘qualified‘ rights meaning that in the right circumstances, surveillance can be carried out if it is necessary, done so legally and in the pursuit of a legitimate aim.

The Act defines ‘covert‘ in relation to steps having been taken to ensure the subject is unaware that surveillance is taking place. ‘Surveillance‘ means monitoring, observing or listening to people, their movements, activities and includes making recordings of this information.

When it comes to the police stakeout, the Act splits our powers into two categories – ‘directed‘ and ‘intrusive‘ surveillance.

Directed surveillance means employing techniques during the course of an investigation that are likely to result in the obtaining of private information about a person. Information collected as a result of day to day activities or in response to something that has happened there and then (hiding behind a lamp post to observe suspicious activity, for example) would not qualify as ‘directed’ for the purposes of the Act.

Intrusive surveillance is different to the above as it involves the collection of information taking place inside a residential premises or private vehicle, be it by placing a bug or having an officer stood in the corner of a room disguised as a pot plant. Because it involves intentionally invading a place in which a person could reasonably expect privacy, intrusive surveillance is, to understate, a big deal.

Who can authorise us then to cut eye holes in a newspaper and sit outside someone’s house? Well, for directed surveillance we need to have obtained the authorisation of a Superintendent.

To launch intrusive surveillance though, we need to go to the head honcho himself – the Chief Constable. Even with the green light from the Chief though, the authorisation also needs the approval of the Office of Surveillance Commissioners before it can go ahead. In addition to this, intrusive surveillance will only be authorised in relation to the investigation of the most serious crime, again ensuring that it is proportionate and so does not breach Human Rights law.

A stakeout isn’t simply a matter of parking up outside someone’s house and nor should it be. The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act is there to ensure that police powers are set out clearly and used properly. It doesn’t stop us spending long nights guzzling doughnuts and talking about the ball game, it just means that we’re there for the right reasons.


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