A senior Metropolitan police officer has described the UK's CCTV strategy as a "fiasco", saying billions had been spent with very little impact on either stopping crime or providing evidence.
But don't count on the UK's flocks of cameras being taken down any time soon - the comments appear to be a thinly veiled plea for more cash to be poured into the country's favourite surveillance technology.
Mick Neville, head of New Scotland Yard's Visual Images, Identifications and Detections Office (Viido) said: "Billions of pounds has been spent on kit, but no thought has gone into how the police are going to use the images and how they will be used in court. It's been an utter fiasco: only three per cent of crimes were solved by CCTV."
Neville told the Guardian that officers often do not look for images beyond those held by local councils. He said investigating officers don't like looking through CCTV images "because it's hard work".
Viido will start putting images of suspects in mugging, robbery and rape cases on the Metropolitan Police website next month. The Met already puts up images of suspects in high profile crimes.
Plans to create a national CCTV database seems to be on hold because technology to carry out automatic searches is not up to the job. However, a database is in the works which uses tracking technology from the sports advertising industry. This looks for distinctive logos on clothing to find previous images of suspects where they may not have concealed their identities as effectively as when they actually committed the crime.
Viido is creating a London-wide database which is reinforced by written descriptions of suspects. Where this is being trialled it is "helping the police" in some 15 to 20 per cent of street robberies. Neville accepted that such moves could raise Big Brother concerns.
The comments seem to be a demand for more and better CCTV, rather than a reversal of the UK's love affair with surveillance and reactive policing. They also reflect last October's report on UK CCTV strategy which said most cameras do not provide good enough images to identify people and that police often do not get access to relevant images regardless of their quality. It also called for a national register of cameras and networking them so they can be accessed remotely - police usually have to visit the camera, or control room, in order to view the footage.
Cheshire's deputy chief constable Graham Gerrard said there was no point having a national DNA database if police still had to approach 43 different forces to access images of suspects, the paper adds. He said plans for the Facial Indentification National Database (Find) were on hold because of technology problems.
Echoing the feelings of many who deal with IT suppliers, he said: "Sometimes when they put their [equipment] in operational practice, it's not as wonderful as they said it would be... I suspect [Find] has been put on hold until the technology matures. Before you can digitise every offender's image you have to make sure the lighting is right and it's a good picture."
The Information Commissioner has said it wants to see safeguards on who can access images, and it would have concerns if images of "individuals going about their daily lives was retained". ®