There are lies, damned lies and statistics - but without stats, how can public space CCTV prove it offers value for money, and that it works? The Public CCTV Managers Association (PCMA) has begun work on what it terms the ‘holy grail’ - a way of evaulating CCTV services. From the February 2011 print edition of Professional Security magazine.
Colin Murphy of Birmingham City Council, the vice-chairman of PCMA, raised the prospect of volunteer members doing work towards evaluation, at the December 2009 association Christmas lunch in Peterborough. One year on, at the 2010 Christmas meeting in Birmingham, he presented the results from a dozen towns and cities taking part - Mary Murphy at the London borough of Camden, Martin Walker at Hull, Andy Fleming at Cambridge, Susan Masey at Chesterfield, Birmingham, Graham Hollis at Warwickshire, Gareth Batten-Jones at Mansfield, Stuart Hamilton at Peterborough, Rob Hughes at Grantham, Neil Harvey at Nottingham, John Beckett at Sutton in Surrey, Kate Rennicks at Manchester, and associaton chairman Martin Lazell at Kingston upon Thames. Ten stayed the course.
Briefly, a CCTV operator filled and dated a one-sided A4 form for each incident where CCTV was reviewed by police; was there any CCTV evidence in support of the investigation; how did it assist; did the police take a copy; was it used in a media appeal, an interview, to secure an admission or other outcome; what result if any arose from the CCTV images; and if there was no CCTV evidence, why - due to poor quality of image, or no image captured at all? When launching the work in 2009, and presenting the results one year later, Colin Murphy stressed that it was not the final word, but a step towards showing the benefits of local authority CCTV. The average CCTV set-up in the evaluation had 150 cameras, making 1500 in all surveyed. A typical 150-camera town or city CCTV scheme might cost £0.5m a year. On average, there were 182 completed forms, per scheme; 60 incidents per month; two incidents per day, per CCTV authority. There were 1818 completed CCTV evaluation forms, suggesting 182 incidents per scheme during the three months of the review from January 2010. On 1007 occasions, CCTV evidence was considered supportive of police enquiries. Given the slowness of the courts, the evaluation didn’t find much in the way of court outcomes from offences, as incidents included murders, rapes, violence, property theft, drug dealing and public disorder. Colin Murphy summed up: “Each scheme was calculated to be providing real and valuable evidence in support of investigations at the rate of one incident a day, 33 per month; a potential value of 350-400 enquiries assisted per year ... If this figure s extrapolated to include the hundreds of public space CCTV schemes, the contribution that they make can be calculated in the hundreds of thousands, possible a million-plus incidents.”
So is public space CCTV worth it? As Colin admitted, it’s difficult to put a money value on the contribution of CCTV, for example in helping police to get a conviction in court. But, Colin felt, it is definitely worthwhile. Questions, as Colin’s report laid out, abound - can you compare one council CCTV system with a neighbouring one, or a similar sized town or city in another region? Can you benchmark excellence? As Colin wrote, hundreds of millions of pounds have gone into public space CCTV. The now deceased National Policing Improvement Agency was in charge of the National CCTV Strategy for some years. For years the PCMA has grappled with how to evaluate members’ systems; indeed, it was a cover story in Professional Security in 2001. Colin wrote: “Sadly, the sudden and dramatic rise in public CCTV was not founded on a well researched and effectively organised overarching national strategy - no, it was largely a star burst of uncoordinated local authority financial opportunism that has resulted in the service we find today ... indeed CCTV remains without a national regulatory regime and remains in need of some structure for the future.” If further evaluation allows local authority CCTV to put a media-friendly total on how much CCTV is saving the criminal justice system and society, it may give CCTV managers - a ‘Cinderella’ service in local government, as was aired at the PCMA meeting - ammunition to make a case for a budget, and to defend their work from civil liberties activists.
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