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DOUBTS OVER CCTV EFFECTIVENESS AHEAD OF EUROPEAN DIRECTIVE

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In the first of two BBC Radio Four Today programme features on the use of closed circuit television in Britain - 't...
In the first of two BBC Radio Four Today programme features on the use of closed circuit television in Britain - 'the most watched country in the world' according to the programme - academics said claims made for the benefits and effectiveness of CCTV systems were not supported by research.

In the five years since CCTV first appeared in Britain, on a residential area in the west end of Newcastle upon Tyne, there has been no national value for money study of such systems. A European directive on privacy, due to be published in June, will restrict the use of cameras, especially in police evidence.

Last summer after Newcastle United failed to win soccer's Premier League Championship dozens of hooligans were picked up in dawn raids across Tyneside after they had been caught on surveillance cameras. A local newspaper then published the photographs of another 100 men whom he police wanted to question - most of them gave themselves up.

In Newcastle city centre, where CCTV cameras have been installed for five years, the police say recorded crimes have dropped from almost 15,000 a year to just over 9,000.

Superintendent Graham Stafford, who is in charge of policing the city centre, commented: 'It certainly gives reassurance to the public as we watch over them as they go about their daily business and that gives an assistance in a reduced fear of crime.

'Ultimately it has assisted us in detecting crimes that maybe before we wouldn't have detected by being able to get video evidence, but it still hasn't deterred people from committing crime.

'But having said that, it is part and parcel of the whole strategy here. It's a tool now that I wouldn't like the police to be without'.

Audrey Buloss, of South Bank University, who has spent four years researching the effects of CCTV, says the only figures available are from the police and sometimes they are misleading.

She told Today: 'I think you have to treat all claims where you cannot get detailed written material with extreme caution because sometimes the figures that are quoted may only apply to a single car parking lot or a particular shopping mall or even to a single street'.

The first cameras in the West End residential area are perched on huge gantries festooned with anti-vandal devices, braceletted with spikes and wire. Police claim they have reduced crime by 20% but that, according to interviewees, is not the experience of people living there who said that crime and 'joy riding' was still going on. 'Being on camera makes them feel big', said one woman.

Another said her street was safer but that had nothing to do with CCTV. It was because of improved street lighting.

Adrian Beck, a criminologist at Leicester University, commented: 'The evidence available at the moment is not that persuasive about how effective it is claimed to be by those with responsibility for installing this type of equipment'.

Research by his team says surveillance cameras are expensive to install, expensive to maintain and, althoughthey may help catch criminals who perpetrate specific types of crime such as public order offences, claims that CCTV is the 'silver bullet' of crime prevention just don't stack up.

Surveillance cameras have been on British streets for five years, but despite the millions of pounds spent of their installation and upkeep, no national study has been done to discover whether they provide value for money. But the EU directive on privacy could put CCTV under scrutiny and throw the future of Britain's burgeoning surveillance network into doubt.

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