PUBLIC CCTV SURVEILLANCE : NETWORKS & AWARENESS

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As at 2011, living in modern Australia, and indeed now throughout the world, there are fewer and fewer public places that do not subject us all to CCTV surveillance. Our images are recorded and retained by a growing number of local governments and commercial entities.

The application of public surveillance requires organisations to manage a myriad of policy and legislation frameworks. Technology is now IP networked systems, with obvious vulnerabilities for abuse and a need to control spending and maximise efficient integration across other security management systems.

A majority of the CCTV systems in Australia are still analogue based and most footage is simply wasted and purged. Images are more likely to be of average quality and retrieval of images of interest is often cumbersome and a time consuming affair – much like the phenomenon of people not knowing how to set the timer on the common VCR years ago. However, following the emergence of digital networked CCTV systems, the image quality, processing power and storage capacity is allowing the use of smarter video analytics and ever improving pattern recognition software. The technology to implement a comprehensive, fully integrated digital public CCTV surveillance system is now a viable option, being funded by federal and state governments and within the next decade will continue to migrate from analogue to digital systems.

It is clear that one of the key factors which is accommodating continued growth of open street CCTV in western societies is the relative ‘laissez faire’ attitude to our disproportionate fear of crime and an ambiguous legal and constitutional environment.

In addition, government policy is in support of funding CCTV for the political ‘law and order’ factor. CCTV is often promised and sold as an expensive but effective crime fighting tool designed to appease public perceptions of what crime prevention involves.

The elements of ‘designing out crime’ to provide a more passive but tertiary approach to crime prevention is still developing but will also emerge as a major driver for appropriate and better use of public surveillance for the genuine benefit of public safety and community enhancement. Street lighting and area illumination needed for CCTV is also a great benefit for general safety and security purposes, as well as generating positive night time activity in our communities. In these circumstances, CCTV can influence people to feel safer when in public.

In Germany, for instance, the Constitutional Court has declared that “the knowledge of being under surveillance, why and by whom is crucial for a democratic society and the autonomy of its citizens”. Similarly, in Denmark there is a general legal presumption against the surveillance of public space by private bodies, and explicit regulation of the use of photography by the police. In Norway, where privacy rights are constitutionally enshrined, there is a strong data protection regime that has explicitly concerned itself with regulating CCTV through a licensing requirement. In Canada, the Supreme Court declared in 1990 that to “permit unrestricted video surveillance by agents of the state would seriously diminish the degree of privacy we can reasonably expect to enjoy in a free society”

This ruling gave rise to the challenge by the former Privacy Commissioner of Canada, that continuous and indiscriminate monitoring (i.e. that which is not based on probable cause) breaches the Canadian Constitutional Charter as well as the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Right, and the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights.

To develop longer term, overarching strategies which underpin and guide CCTV Network development, there is a need to align systems with best practice for city environments. This approach involves better integrating and acknowledging the system in city and community planning. Strategic crime prevention planning should correspond to the CCTV monitoring regime and identify priority focus areas, create meaning (value) to key performance indicators and thereby provide longer term guidance to CCTV design, such as field of view (FOV) objectives, camera placement, and priority operator functions for monitored systems.

Existing and additional cameras should be individually risk assessed and evaluated for  defined objectives, subject to consistent selection criteria, accurately costed in 5 to 10 year plans, mandated for best quality images and importantly, monitored and evaluated over time in terms of impact on community safety, crime rates and fear of crime. Otherwise systems can be prone to security decay, which has been the case for many public CCTV systems.

In support of camera placement, greater attention should also be given to the installation of signage, lighting, Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) strategies and response capabilities so that the installation of cameras are not an isolated attempt to influence and control issues in that space. Response is a vital component in achieving effective security and with many CCTV systems, this issue is often overlooked.

In essence, to derive maximum value from the system, CCTV operations should be designed to align operational workloads with strategic crime prevention planning, create efficiencies in daily duties and recording observations, and significantly enhance management reports. Management reports should allow trends or spiked changes to be identified quickly and demonstrate progress over time. This approach is designed to allow monitoring workloads and functions to be reviewed, interrogated and addressed with greater certainty than would often be the case, particularly by senior executives, mayors, councillors and at times, the public.

In NSW and WA, police have commenced creating registers of all CCTV systems, both public and private, due to the potential benefits offered, namely to:

  • Provide an expansive and effective coverage for police response to incidents and emergency situations;
  • Assist in the detection and prosecution of offenders in relation to crime, antisocial behaviour, alcohol related violence and illicit drug activity;
  • Assist police to create a safer environment for those who work, live and visit the respective public space; and
  • Manage crime levels by deterring potential offenders.

Public space CCTV stakeholders must acknowledge there will be media interest relating to system performance, recorded images, local area activities and the perception of anti-social behaviour and crime. CCTV images are often sought by media or used by police for raising public awareness or seeking to identify offenders, which may receive state or national media coverage. Media management plans should outline clear policy as to how the media is used, why CCTV footage is publicly released and when community safety messages can be reported for greatest awareness and affect.

The rapid and far reaching change in technology, community expectations, and community related risks requires the maintenance of modern, goal orientated, state of the art, fully functional public space surveillance systems. Getting the maximum real dollar and subjective benefit from CCTV will therefore require appropriate and skilfully applied management and review practices.

The CCTV Technical Forum examined new digital technologies and CCTV Standards with leading national experts. The ‘CCTV World 2011′ 2-day conference brought together various sectors from around the world, including US, UK, Germany and Canada. Industries represented included retail, public transport, hospitality, manufacturing, warehousing, banking and local governments, as well as law enforcement, security and CCTV experts to uncover how the latest CCTV technologies effect developments on the implementation and management of CCTV networks. Both events helped shape the current thinking around CCTV in Australia.

Special speakers included Vlado Damjanovski , a CCTV Expert with ViDi Labs and
CCTV Standards Australia Chairman, Anthony Caputo, DVS Architect, Wireless Video Expert, and Author of Digital Video Surveillance & Security (USA) and Kurt Stern, Department Head, PT Telematics, Munich Metro, Tram and Bus (Germany). ASM Executive Editor Chris Cubbage, a public CCTV and security specialist presented a keynote address at the Technical Forum and Chaired the CCTV World Conference.

 

 

 

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