Tuesday, May 06, 2008

When CCTV Fails: Swoop on the Swooshes

In a damning endorsement of this blog (well, says me), Detective Chief Inspector Mike Neville has blasted the nation's CCTV systems, claiming they only solve 3% of London street crimes, and just don't live up to the "preventative" effect that ubiquitous surveillance promised all those years ago. Tut.

What's the problem with them then? "Criminals [are] not afraid of cameras", put simply. Oops. Ah yes. Old-time readers will remember this very problem - that surveillance is more likely to worry those already afraid of the law (generally the good, law-abiding folk) while those with something to nick, or something to prove, probably won't be that deterred anyway. Net result? The two-sided CCTV coin is actually a lot bigger on one side.

What's DCI Neville's response to this brilliant insight though? Could it be to re-think the entire CCTV Nation* policy, to re-work the relationship between state watcher and citizen watched?

His logic is, of course, infallible. "If criminals see that CCTV works they are less likely to commit crimes" - ah yes, the fault is with the camera not providing enough feedback, and on criminals having far too much understanding of just how crap the police are at actually using CCTV footage.

And the solution? It would be illogical to suggest anything other than better CCTV then. Which Neville does with aplomb, although one could posit that this is because he's heading up efforts for more image recognition in CCTV. In this case, that recognition stretches to tracking people by identifying brand logos and sporting emblems on persons' attire.

Now that's brilliant thinking. I'm sure I've pointed this out before, but haven't you just given away "the big secret" there, DTI Neville? So after all this investment, what you're basically doing is not preventing criminals from committing a crime, but from wearing Nike swooshes? How long does it take a sub-culture of recklessness to work out that nobody's watching CCTV cameras? How much less time does it take the same sub-culture to, uh, read a BBC News article?

Furthermore, what reason do all those criminals that don't pander to the "latest" fashions have to be afraid of this new technology? In fact, are they even less likely to be caught, once the police are solely focusing on those that can be tracked easily?

Maybe some day we'll invent a camera that identifies just where the polic[e/y] mind goes abnormal and strange. Until that day, I guess we'll have to continue blogging.

* Most excellent Banksy link via Richard V.

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