With UK CCTV Surveillance Camera Commissioner Tony Porter currently pressing for enhanced regulation in the CCTV sector, Frank Crouwel – co-founder and managing director at NW Systems Group – has responded by stating that improving CCTV standards requires tighter regulation in tandem with a collective desire to professionalise.
Over the past 25 years, CCTV has advanced into public spaces across the UK at a fairly rapid pace. From controlling football crowds and monitoring town centres through to assisting local police services and Scotland Yard in identifying criminals and potential terrorism suspects, CCTV is now widely regarded as an indispensible crime prevention and public protection tool.
However, the Government’s Surveillance Camera Commissioner Tony Porter has warned that too many of those CCTV cameras deployed in the UK are “useless” if they are redundant, having served the purposes for which they were intended (ie public safety, crime deterrence or traffic management).
In a detailed interview, Porter told BBC Radio 5 Live that he believes the public doesn’t have a true understanding of the current nature of surveillance, suggesting that local authorities with many CCTV cameras need to inform the local community about the exact number under deployment and how effective those cameras are in reality.
In addition, Porter has expressed concern about drones and police officers wearing cameras.
The UK, of course, has one of the largest totals of CCTV cameras in the world, with the British Security Industry Association estimating there are currently between 4 and 5.9 million cameras in use.
Naturally, Porter’s comments have sparked much debate across the security world, with Perpetuity Research director Professor Martin Gill, for example, speaking on the subject at an event in London as well as twice on BBC Radio.
Centralised regulation of the surveillance world
A fulsome and impassioned response has emanated from Frank Crouwel, co-founder and managing director at NW Systems Group. Here is Crouwel’s viewpoint in full.
“I read with much interest the messages from the UK Surveillance Camera Commissioner Tony Porter, who has pressed for increased regulation to deliver more effective surveillance and end the industry’s legacy of poorly-specified and maintained systems.
“In the interview, Tony states that he’s in favour of well-run surveillance systems that serve a clear purpose. By the same token, during his brief time in office he has clearly seen far too many poorly run systems. He’s not alone there.
“I agree with him that it’s time to push for tighter and more effective centralised regulation of the surveillance world in order to root out poor CCTV deployments and systems management. The fact that today’s fragmented security market is currently held to account by an equally fragmented and largely toothless collection of trade bodies doesn’t help.
“I don’t agree with Tony that we need another ‘public debate’ on the matter. This is a political phrase which normally leads to inaction. To me, it indicates an unwillingness to actually tackle the root cause of a problem and potentially kicks it into the long grass. The debate about the need for modernisation of the security industry has not moved on in any meaningful way in more than ten years now, if not longer. We need action to prevent further compounding of the problem and then begin to put it right.
“Tony was spot on when he said local councils and private sector organisations need a regular CCTV system review regime in place to ensure that existing cameras are working well, recordings are still working properly, quality is maintained, user access properly controlled and that the intended purpose of surveillance cameras is still being achieved and remains valid.
“Systems failing these tests should be upgraded or, if the security requirement has changed and they are no longer doing a job, then they should be scrapped or otherwise redeployed elsewhere. This review process should be the responsibility of the system end user and ought to be more strictly regulated.”
Gathering cloud of suspicion
“Having been in the industry for 15 years now, it’s clear that our sector as a whole doesn’t have a good reputation among its customers. It sometimes feels like we operate under a gathering cloud of suspicion. One of the key problems is that it’s difficult for an end user to establish whether he or she has found a provider which is up to the job and will be able to help with any ongoing review requirements after the surveillance system has ‘gone live’.
“Correct design, configuration, installation and maintenance are all important considerations for any specifier but many firms are unable to cover off these aspects which keep the system delivering security benefits year in, year out. There are industry CCTV certifications and accreditation schemes for end user guidance but their codes are largely meaningless and have definitely fallen far behind the technology curve as IP video systems have begun to be deployed in far greater numbers.
“There’s also a need for the industry to both keep up-to-date with these technology developments and simultaneously professionalise. We need to recognise that the technology now available is both highly sophisticated and potentially very powerful. Equally, it’s only effective if designed and commissioned correctly and properly managed. This requires an advanced skill set and knowledge base as well as an ongoing training regime, all of which would ideally be professionally certified. There’s not enough of this around and little incentive to get it done as buyers rarely demand it of their suppliers.
“In a recent IHS report it was stated that 75% of CCTV camera units sold in the UK are still analogue which, according to Tony Porter, is ‘old technology’, while over 50% of sales by value are now IP-based with the balance being analogue-based. If these figures are correct then we must assume the cheaper – and often inadequate – analogue devices are still being installed in large volumes.
“Why is this the case when most other Western European countries have 80% or more IP video penetration? This is an important question because, as we believe, there’s a strong correlation between high quality deployments of the latest IT technologies and highly efficient, targeted and effective surveillance.
“The answer lies in effective regulation which is far more prevalent in other European nations than it is here in the UK.
“What action is needed now, then, such that we can begin to move the needle in the right direction? Put simply, we need to professionalise and fast. Without concerted action by Tony Porter, our law makers, law enforcers, industry bodies and other influencers we will fail to professionalise as a sector. The end result will be increasing numbers of ‘useless’ cameras which fail to meet basic requirements and are ‘poorly managed’.
“Evidence of these poor systems will continue to incline the public and media alike to question the value of many of the cameras they see in their daily trips to and around our towns and cities.
“I’ll be pleasantly surprised if anything changes in the next ten years. We shall see.”