(The Telegraph) 25 Aug 2009 - Fewer than one crime is solved by every 1,000 closed circuit television cameras, the Metropolitan Police, Britain's biggest police force, has admitted.
Each case helped by the use of CCTV effectively costs £20,000 to detect, Met figures showed.
Critics of Britain’s so-called 'surveillance society' said it raised serious concerns over how police forces used CCTV cameras to fight crime.
Britain is one of the most monitored countries in the world, with an estimated four million cameras nationwide.
An internal report released by the Metropolitan Police under Freedom of Information laws disclosed that more than one million of these are in London alone.
However, it cast doubt on the use of the cameras as a crime fighting tool.
It said: “For every 1,000 cameras in London, less than one crime is solved per year.”
The report, written by Detective Chief Inspector Mick Neville, who runs the Metropolitan Police’s Visual Images Identifications and Detections Office, found that the public “have a high expectation of CCTV and are frequently told they are captured on camera 300 times per day”.
Public confidence was dented when the police often stated there was no CCTV working when a crime has been committed, it said.
It also said that increasingly members of the public were complaining that officers had not bothered to view available CCTV images when trying to track down criminals.
It disclosed a “significant rise in the level of complaints from the public, where it is perceived that police have not viewed CCTV. This is now approaching 100 per year.”
The report found that untrained officers were often downloading and viewing CCTV images in their hunt for evidence. The cameras were effective in crime-fighting if the images and information from them was used properly.
Detective Superintendent Michael McNally, who commissioned the report, admitted there were “some concerns” about how CCTV was being used.
The report also revealed concerns at Scotland Yard that the Conservatives could cut back on numbers of cameras or the way that they are used if the party wins the next general election, likely to be next May.
Under a section headlined “Strategic Issues”, the report said: “Potential change of Government - the Conservatives are not CCTV friendly - we need to start showing that we are targeting serious crime.”
Earlier this year separate research commissioned by the Home Office suggested that the cameras had done virtually nothing to cut crime, but were most effective in preventing vehicle crimes in car parks.
A report by a House of Lords committee also said that £500million was spent on new cameras in the 10 years to 2006, money which could have been spent on street lighting or neighbourhood crime prevention initiatives.
A large proportion of the cash has been In London, where an estimated £200 million so far has been spent on the cameras. This suggests that each crime has cost £20,000 to detect.
Britain has 1 per cent of the world’s population but around 20 per cent of its CCTV cameras - which works out as the equivalent of one for every 14 people.
David Davis MP, the former shadow Home Secretary, said the latest report “should provoke a major and long overdue rethink on where the Home Office crime prevention budget is being spent”.
He added: “CCTV leads to massive expense and minimum effectiveness. It creates a huge intrusion on privacy, yet provides little or no improvement in security.
“The Metropolitan Police has been extraordinarily slow to act to deal with the ineffectiveness of CCTV, something true both in London and across the country.
“A combination of overdependence on CCTV and ineffective use of the cameras means that this money could have been much better spent on more police officers."
Chris Grayling, the shadow Home Secretary, said: "It's just not possible to fight crime with technology alone, CCTV can help in some situations but there is nothing to beat getting more police back from behind their desks and on to the streets."
Anita Coles, policy officer for campaigning group Liberty, said: “Being the world’s camera hub comes at a price; not just to our privacy but also to our pockets.
“CCTV has cost millions and yet as it’s not properly regulated there is little evidence of targeted and effective use. In these hard times our money would be better spent on proven methods of crime prevention such as better street lighting and more police on the beat.”
Eamonn Butler, the director of think tank the Adam Smith Institute, said: “It is obvious that the boom in CCTV cameras is not making us the slightest bit safer.
“There is no evidence that it saves us from gun or knife crime, or for that matter that it stops terrorists – many terrorists are only too glad to advertise their evil deeds.
“Nor are cameras much good in getting convictions. Evidence from them is only allowed in court if the images are securely stored and handled, so that there is no possibility that they have been tampered with.”
The National Police Improvement Agency is currently undertaking a review into the effectiveness of CCTV.
A Metropolitan Police spokesman said the CCTV detection rate was based on "an estimate only and based on a small sample".
She added: "They do not reflect the complete picture of cases resolved in London in which CCTV evidence is an important factor."
The Home Office defended the use of CCTV, with a spokesman saying cameras could "help communities feel safer".
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