Three separate reports on CCTV were published yesterday, with the Scottish Government’s own analysis concluding that an “urgent” review of funding of the ageing systems was required.

There are more than 2225 public space cameras in Scotland. Glasgow has the highest concentration with 408, compared to 150 in Edinburgh.

Further research found that it will cost an extra £7 million to maintain CCTV provision in Scotland over the next three years. More than one third (38%) of cameras are over eight years old, with the lifespan of cameras typically seven to 10 years.

The report from the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research said: “Funding for existing CCTV systems across Scotland should be urgently reviewed. Aside from advancing digital technology, across Scotland several CCTV systems are becoming technologically obsolete or beyond economical repair.”

Government research noted the value of CCTV to the police and the strong public support of the cameras are often seen as the “panacea” to problems of crime and anti-social behaviour.

However, a separate paper on the impact of CCTV on crime found there was “minimal” evidence that CCTV effectively deters crime, with convicted offenders suggesting cameras were not perceived as a threat, particularly in situations fuelled by alcohol.

Shoplifting and vehicle theft were the crimes most prevented by cameras, with the deterrent effect less likely in city centres.

The Scottish Centre found a “clear need for rapid progression” towards a standard level of training for operators.

“Universal accredited training would act to raise professional standards across Scotland and reassure the public about the professional use of CCTV,” the report said.

The Scottish Centre called for a “harmonising” of the guidelines on what incidents should be logged by operators and how they should be recorded. Data is stored for different lengths of time in different areas and “limits the ability of the police to collect CCTV evidence about an incident retrospectively”, the report found.

The reports also look at changing technology and at the lessons to be learned from the London terrorist bombings. CCTV cameras in London were managed at local authority level, therefore there was little opportunity to get a city-wide snapshot of “current threats”, said the Scottish Government report.

Retrieving information from these systems was hampered by staff having to travel to different locations and retrieve material stored in various way, leading police to consider the idea of a “command centre” to access, view and control live footage across the capital.

“This model is already under discussion among Scottish police services with at least one force developing the ability to ‘pull’ control of public-space cameras into an emergency control/command centre to respond to major incidents,” the Scottish Government report said.

Community Safety Minister Fergus Ewing said the review was held to get an accurate picture of how CCTV is used in public places. “Now that we have this information, I will establish a working group of key practitioners and professionals to take forward the recommendations of the strategic report,” he said.

Solicitor General Frank Mulholland said CCTV had proved invaluable in prosecuting crime. “Recent examples of the use of CCTV evidence in the most serious of crimes have included the prosecutions of Marek Harcar for the murder of Moira Jones, and of Vitas Plytnykas for the murder of Jolanta Bledaite,” he said.

Scattergun approach does not work

The Home Office through Scotland’s local authorities has thrown a lot of money at CCTV cameras and then commissioned research which shows they do not stop crime. This has not stopped communities installing them, with Shetland now having more cameras than San Francisco, for example. That just seems ridiculous.

There is evidence that CCTV cameras work for stopping car crime in car parks, but are not very good at preventing crime generally. All the money is spent on CCTV could be used to put police on the streets.

If you have a girl walking home late at night, a camera is unlikely to prevent something happening to her, but a strong police presence might.

CCTV cameras seem to be allied to a general lack of trust that the authorities have in the public. Cameras might help to generate a sense of security, but there is also evidence that would suggest they create insecurity. Therefore we have evidence that cameras don’t make people feel safer or actually make them safer.

We need an evidence-based approach to CCTV, rather than this scattergun approach. Fewer cameras doing the job properly is preferable to having lots of cameras, which make people feel insecure and don’t deliver images of good quality.

Dr Geraint Bevan is a NO2ID Scotland campaigner comment