CCTV and London Riots

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Mick Neville has been a forceful and persuasive speaker for some years now on the need for fit for purpose CCTV, properly applied, to catch criminals. He gave an update at the Professional Security magazine event Security TWENTY 13 Newcastle.

He stressed the need for CCTV to be easy to download and take to a police station. CCTV has produced 'fantastic results' and arrests arising from the August 2011 riots are still going on. CCTV can solve as many crimes as fingerprints and DNA, he said, at a fraction – one-eighth - of the cost. He began by showing footage of the riots and looting in London. While still shockingly violent – bricks thrown at police, a moped rider pulled off his machine when he strayed onto a street of rioters, one of many youths in hoods setting fire to a building through a broken window, youths sliding under a broken shop shutter to steal what they could lay their hands on – the law has been enforced since. Some 5000 arrests have followed, and 4000 of those were CCTV-generated, said Mick Neville. He's the Metropolitan Police detective chief inspector in charge of VIIDO (Visual Images, Identifications and Detections Office) which as the name suggests is a unit that takes and passes on CCTV footage towards arresting and prosecuting criminals. Most of the main offenders shown on the riot CCTV footage, he added, have been caught. The 2011 riots were the Met's largest investigation using CCTV: "The CCTV has proved invaluable."

Noted at the time of the riots was that many on the streets wore hoods over their heads, or scarves around their mouths, seeking to obscure their features from CCTV; a back-handed compliment to the surveillance. Has that beaten the CCTV? Not necessarily, as Mick Neville described VIIDO as 'becoming the third forensic science', moved by the Met Commissioner to Scotland Yard; in other words, symbolically and practically at the centre of the Met's policing. VIIDO uses volunteers – indeed a 'lessons learned' DVD about CCTV and the riots was made by a volunteer. All copies offered free by Mick to ST13 were snapped up. The unit volunteers load up cases of suspects to the Facewatch reporting software. Simon Gordon, the founder of Facewatch, was among ST13 attenders. Mick Neville quoted the Met report on the riots, Four Days in August, that suggested CCTV images were best sent out through a portal (rather than haphazardly). Hence the Met's FILM database, done with 3rd Forensic, featured in the August issue of Professional Security. All with the name of putting identities to faces of suspects on CCTV, VIIDO can make posters to share with CCTV control room operators and security officers. One aim; to target prolific yet local criminals, who steal handbags for instance. "This makes your guards better because they have something to focus on; and no-one tell me about the Data Protection Act; I can share these images, it's nonsense to say I can't; I am doing it to prevent crime." Besides catching criminals at all, more idents of those criminals can link a thief or fraudster to more crimes and lead to longer prison terms. The Met is also doing more to circulate CCTV images of wanted criminals to the public, on the side of 'ad vans' for example. Mick Neville provoked a laugh with the case of one criminal who took a photograph of himself featured on such an ad van; when caught with the photo, the criminal had helpfully included his case number on the snapshot.

Mick Neville went on: "The biggest, most significant change we have made is the area identification teams." As he pointed out, unless someone looks at the thousands of images of wanted burglars and robbers, the stills are worthless. Mick's been given restricted duty officers, who may have a back injury or a heart condition that means they cannot work outside; but they have raised identification rates. VIIDO has besides found more of what Mick Neville terms 'super recognisers'. "We have found that people are better than machines [at recognising suspects," Mick said. "We have 200 names on our super-recogniser register, so if a crime happens, we can show every officer the picture. And it gets idents quicker." He showed examples of idents made; of someone wearing a motorcycle helmet; someone else with a scarf to cover their face apart from their eyes. VIIDO is hoping for European Union money to work with the University of Greenwich on training for 'super-recognising'. Super-recognisers for instance were in use at the Notting Hill carnival, to spot known gang members to keep them from the annual carnival.

Mick Neville reported a change in police attitude to CCTV: "It isn't a pain in the backside," he said with characteristic directness. "It's a very useful thing." But as he added – a theme of his ideas for some years – proper use of CCTV has to apply throughout the criminal justice chain. It's not enough for council control rooms, retailers and other businesses to provide recognisable faces of suspects, though many CCTV systems do not or cannot; nor is it enough to have courts able to play CCTV footage, though as reported in the July issue of Professional Security, many courts are lagging; in between, police presented with an ident from CCTV images has to agree that it's a correct ID, and make the arrest. Mick Neville gave a case of an image of a looter from 2013 and another image of a crime from 2013; while most people would be uncertain that the two people were the same, from an arrest more evidence might arise, such as distinctive trousers captured on the 2011 image and still owned by the suspect. Mick Neville set out what sort of CCTV he wants from manufacturers: "I want footage of the offence and I want the face." Put another way, to detect a criminal he wants the front of a face; the top of a bald head is no use!?

As another example of Mick Neville's demand for a system of use of CCTV, he spoke of how CCTV performance holds police officers to account, asking them why they are not progressing inquiries. Speaking of faces, while he admitted that facial recognition was ,not that good at the moment', he added that it does work in an airport – that is, indoors with regular light and perimeters, without distracting traffic – and it will get better and better. In other words addressed to the manufacturers, he said it was fantastic to see technology at the ST13 exhibition, 'but we have to stop convincing ourselves a magic box is the solution'. As he added, CCTV operator training must improve, and data protection he denounced as 'a Scooby Doo ghost'. He said: "We [the Met] have never, ever, ever, had a case refused at court because of data protection. Let me say that again; never. What we do get refused at court for – we cannot play it, the footage is not good enough; it doesn't show what we want it to. And the police are at fault, because we haven't said what we want." If footage is not easy to download, the best megapixel camera is a waste of time, he went on. The simpler the download the better – 'and bear in mind most officers cannot download a usb and take it to the police station; so what are you going to do about it?" he asked the ST13 audience of installers, specifiers, and managers. "How are you going to make it, so that the police can use your system? The biggest problem the police have got is getting the image," he said, for non-violent crime such as bulk shoplifting or theft of handbags, for uploading to such online services as Facewatch, and generate a statement from the victim. He warned: "The police simply haven't got the time to watch hours and hours of footage for a theft. Let's be honest – if it is a murder, rape or a GBH, yes; but if it is something that impacts on profits and profits alone, the business must take responsibility for CCTV easy for police to access." But continuing his theme that police like everyone else has to treat CCTV in a systematic way - and actually use it – he wondered aloud if regional or national identification methods were called for, to capture travelling criminals, giving the example of Cheshire perhaps suffering from Liverpool and other out of the county criminals.

About Mick Neville; he was a speaker also at a September 'riots lessons learned' conference at Scotland Yard. He's a member of an ACPO CCTV and identifications group.

This article was originally published in Professional Security Magazine. If you would like more information on subscribing to this magazine please Contact us