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How is CCTV used in a police or other investigation

When a crime or incident is reported to the authorities, a proper, professionally installed and maintained CCTV Camera System is often an invaluable tool. Find out more about the process.

As an SSAIB Certified installation company, all systems supplied, installed and commissioned by Advanced Overwatch meet legislative and operational requirements and are recognised by all insurance, police and emergency services. We also offer customers Police Response, through our Control Room Monitoring.

Advanced Overwatch provide our customers both residential and commercial with CCTV Systems Installation in Coleraine, Portstewart, Portrush and across Northern Ireland.

A CCTV system monitors the interior and exterior of a property, transmitting the signals to the display and system recorder for safe, secure storage.

If you are concerned about the security of your home or workplace, Advanced Overwatch can help you in monitoring your premises anywhere, anytime.

Many countries across the globe are now using CCTV systems as an additional tool in fighting crime. This blog post will explain to you how CCTV footage plays a major role in crime investigation.


Why do police request CCTV footage during investigation?

Police officers around the globe are using CCTV footage in crime investigation. The video footage is very effective in solving crimes because they record the crime and create evidence for court trials. Most investigators use the footage to locate or confirm the identity of a suspect.

Investigators also use the video to determine whether an offence has occurred, observe relevant events surrounding incidents, corroborate victim and generate other investigative leads.


How CCTV Footage Is Used in Crime Investigation

The reason for requesting CCTV footage is more likely to be influenced by the characteristics of crime. A recent study has found that the detectives from Scotland Yard used CCTV footage to investigate a great number of murders and the video has helped them in their investigation process.

When comparing Northern Ireland to other similar regions, a report shows that of the 90 murder cases recorded that year in Scotland, CCTV footage was used in 86 of the cases. According to police officials, 65 cases were solved because the criminal was identified in the footage or the suspicious activities were recorded before or after their attacks. Investigators say that CCTV footage is as important as forensic evidence like fingerprints and DNA samples.


How CCTV footage can help in crime detection and prevention?

CCTV footage allows investigators to watch the entire incident. The video provides information about the sequence of events, the methods used by the criminal, and the entry and exit routes taken by the offender.

Even if this is not possible due to some reasons, CCTV footage can be helpful in refuting other evidence of what happened, such as witness testimony.

The recording may assist in determining who was involved in the crime either directly, as when a suspect is recognized or indirectly, such as when the footage shows the criminal touching a surface from where investigators are able to recover forensic evidence. The recording can also help detectives in establishing the timeline of the crime. Investigators can use the CCTV footage to verify the accuracy of statements of both the suspects and witnesses of the incident.

As a CCTV footage could result in the guilty plea of the suspect, it will help in reducing costs by avoiding court trials. The recording can be used to prove or disprove allegations against the suspect. Video footage helps in finding the missing individual or suspect and investigators use it as a source of material backup for witness testimony.


Applications of CCTV cameras in police operations

CCTV cameras are used by police officials in their day-to-day activities. Here is a list of the ways in which a CCTV system can be used by the police:

  • Training of new officers
  • Processing of crime scene
  • Patrol vehicle in-car cameras
  • Vehicle collision investigation
  • Undercover surveillance
  • Robbery investigation
  • Tactical operations


Benefits of using Advanced Overwatch CCTV Systems

There are numerous benefits of using a CCTV system. Studies have found that there is a reduced level of fear among people in CCTV areas. Reduced fear of crime may help in increasing the number of people using the area. This increases natural surveillance and encourages people to be more security conscious.

CCTV systems can be used for general location management. Surveillance system helps in monitoring traffic flow, public meetings or demonstrations that may require additional staff. CCTV cameras assist operators in determining if alarms have been activated by mistake thus removing the need for a response by the police. Senior police officers say that assaults on police have been reduced because surveillance cameras allow them to determine the appropriate level of response to the incident.

CCTV camera operators can contact the medical services if they see injured people on the street. The ability to call for assistance is a public safety benefit of CCTV systems. Cameras can also be used to monitor the behaviour of offenders in public places. Operators often know the local offenders in public areas and the cameras become a way to monitor their movements. The potential of CCTV systems to assist in investigations may also drive criminals away from committing offences as they run a greater risk of capture.


Can the police check any CCTV cameras?

If a crime has taken place in your home, business or in your area and you have CCTV cameras in or around your property, you might be wondering if the police can check the footage. Perhaps you’re the only one on your street with it meaning you’re the only one being asked.

The police CAN check your footage but perhaps not as easily as you might think. Read on to find out more about the rules surrounding CCTV and what rights the police have.


Public versus private CCTV Camera Systems

Public CCTV would be that which you find on streets, car parks, highways, parks etc. As these areas are deemed public, the police are able to access the footage filmed in these spaces. It is unlikely to be in real-time, it is more likely to be a download of a recording.

Private CCTV footage would be classified as anything on privately owned land such as your home, small business premises, pubs etc. If, however, your cameras happen to catch footage on areas such as pavements then that would classify as public meaning the rules are slightly different. This footage would need to comply with the Data Protection Act 2018 and GDPR.


What the law says about your CCTV footage

If the CCTV is capturing footage of members of the public in public areas, the police are able to get access to this and don’t need permission in the same way as they do with private footage.

When it comes to your personal CCTV footage, police can get access to it but it must be in accordance with Section 19 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (1984). This states that they can have it if they believe “it is evidence in relation to an offence which he is investigating or any other offence”.


What the police will do

The police will request access to your CCTV security cameras in the first instance. They should give you information as to why they are requesting access, including a crime reference number. It’s worth noting that it might not necessarily be about a crime on your property. For example, it might be that someone passed through your garden before or after committing a crime elsewhere. This information would still be useful for the police and your outdoor CCTV camera might give just give them that extra bit of evidence they need.

If you were to say no, the police do have the right and the ability to follow certain channels in order to encourage you to surrender the footage, such as obtaining a search warrant. This rarely occurs as the reasons for requesting films from security cameras is usually clear and most people are happy to help.

The police can get access to your CCTV camera footage but only when absolutely necessary. They will only ever ask for it in order to help solve crimes local to you and there are certain measures in place to ensure it is only used in safe and appropriate ways.


CCTV use in an Investigation – what procedures are followed?

So, what investigation procedure is followed when CCTV is being used by police and other bodies?

Below is a Standard Operating Procedure, last reviewed in June 2019 and currently active as of August 2021:

2.0      What the Procedure / SOP is about?

2.1 This SOP provides direction to operational staff as to the use and management of third party CCTV in an investigation and its provision to the CPS for Court presentation. It also covers the process to be followed in terms of suspect recognition from CCTV footage or stills.

Compliance with this procedure/SOP and any governing policy is mandatory.

3.0      Detail the Procedure/SOP

3.1.    CCTV – Legal Responsibilities

3.1.1. Currently, there is no primary legislation specifically controlling the use and publication of CCTV images. To use CCTV effectively, investigators should have a clear understanding of the relevant legislation, together with force and national policy relating to its use.

3.1.2. The existing applicable legislation that encompasses the management of evidence, including CCTV, comprises the following:

Data Protection Act 2018Data Protection Act 2018 (DPA) as it relates to the relevant parts of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), or the Law of Enforcement Directive (LED).

3.2. CCTV – General

3.2.1. The existence of CCTV material should always be considered as a reasonable line of enquiry in an investigation.

3.2.2. When viewing CCTV, the emphasis should not simply be on whether the recording contains evidence of the offence but whether it contains anything which is considered relevant, i.e. could it prove or disprove the offence, has it any bearing on the offence under investigation or on any person being investigated, or on the surrounding circumstances?

3.2.3. The Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996 places a statutory obligation on the police to record and retain material that may be relevant to an investigation. Officers should err on the side of caution if they are unsure and record and retain CCTV footage.

3.2.4. If the CCTV material is considered irrelevant, i.e. incapable of having any impact on the case, a PNB entry should be made as to what the recording contained along with the justification for not seizing it.

3.2.5. In every charge and summons case where CCTV constitutes key evidence, the CCTV must be comprehensively summarised in paragraph 4 of the MG5. If copies are not being provided to the CPS, confirmation that the CCTV has been seized and its current location must also be recorded on paragraph 4 of the MG5.

3.2.6. Comprehensive guidance on the use of CCTV in criminal investigations can be found in Authorised Professional Practice relating to CCTV.

3.3. Viewing and Retrieving CCTV

3.3.1. Businesses, companies and organisations must operate CCTV systems in accordance with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) CCTV Code of Practice, and abide by the Data Protection Act 2018 (DPA) as it relates to the relevant parts of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), or the Law of Enforcement Directive (LED).

3.3.2. Investigators must view / review the CCTV before seeking a charging decision and record and retain any material that is relevant. This is almost always best carried out on the CCTV system that originally created the first recording of the matter being reviewed, often with the assistance of the CCTV system owner / operator.

3.3.3. Investigators need to consider the following when retrieving CCTV

  • how to note the correct time and date on the CCTV system
  • how to establish the overwrite period
  • how much footage to retrieve
  • the removal of CCTV systems and hard drives
  • refusal of the CCTV owner to allow officers to view, retrieve or remove CCTV footage or the system.

Specialist support for all aspects of CCTV viewing, retrieval and transcoding is available from your Local Image Recognition Unit practitioner.

3.4. CCTV – Key Evidence

3.4.1. If CCTV is key evidence in a case, every effort must be made to play it to the suspect in interview and their response / reaction recorded on the ‘Defendant Interview’ section of the MG5.

3.4.2. If a suspect is charged or summonsed for an offence two copies of the CCTV, in an industry standard format, must be provided to the CPS, unless the CCTV – Guilty plea criteria is met (see below).

3.5. Transcoding CCTV

3.5.1. Transcoding means changing CCTV footage from its native format into another technical format. Transcoding is a digital process normally required by the CPS, in order for the CCTV to easily play on DVD players and / or Windows PC’s.

3.5.2. Transcoded CCTV is the only product currently accepted by CPS and HMCTS.

3.5.3. Where CCTV needs to be transcoded, form 3330C must be fully completed and authorised by an Inspector. The footage must be labelled, exhibited and sealed before it is sent to the Digital Forensics CCTV Unit (DFCCTVU).

3.5.4. For speed and security reasons, transcoded CCTV will be returned to the relevant Criminal Justice Unit to forward to CPS.

3.5.5. A ‘store copy’ of the CCTV footage will be produced by DFCCTVU and retained for 1 year. Original exhibits will be retained for 2 years before being archived for long term storage – total retention will be for 7 years.

3.5.6. Digital Forensics will prioritise CCTV required for a court hearing and those delivered in person from specialist departments for serious crime investigations (e.g. SCD and PPU).

3.5.7. CCTV for divisional based ‘pre-charge’ investigations should be referred to the local Image Recognition Unit for assessment.

3.5.8. Local Image Recognition Units can produce copies of CCTV in its native format and ‘still’ images.

3.6. CCTV – Guilty Plea

3.6.1. An agreement has been reached between Police, CPS and HMCTS on the provision of CCTV for anticipated guilty plea cases. CCTV will no longer need to be transcoded into a playable format for the first court hearing providing all of the following criteria are met:

  • a guilty plea is anticipated;
  • a clear and unambiguous admission is made by the defendant in interview;
  • confirmation that the CCTV has been viewed and seized by police, as well as its location, is recorded on paragraph 4 of the MG5;
  • the CCTV evidence is comprehensively summarised on paragraph 4 of the MG5;
    it is not an offence that can only be proven by the provision of transcoded CCTV, for example public order.

3.6.2. In all other cases where CCTV constitutes key evidence, or the court adjourn the matter for the CCTV to be transcoded, Kent Police will provide it in a standard DVD playable format.

3.7. CCTV – Identifications / Intelligence and PACE Code D

3.7.1. Recognition is the belief by a person that they know an individual captured on CCTV or a still image.

3.7.2. Staff must be clear about whether their recognition constitutes an Identification of a suspect or is for Intelligence purposes only.

3.7.3. Failure to make this distinction may result in cases being subsequently lost at court.

3.7.4. Identification evidence must be recorded in compliance with Para 3.36 of Code D, PACE Codes of Practice. The completion of a proforma statement is required and should the person be charged, the identification will constitute key evidence in the case.

3.7.5. Intelligence is not a Code D compliant identification and must be recorded as such and handled appropriately in the investigation. Should the suspect deny the offence, this information will be insufficient to prove identification.

3.7.5. ‘Caught on Camera’ now distinguishes between these two categories of recognition on the internal Police website. Staff must ensure they select the correct category on the still and complete a proforma statement (IDENTIFICATION) or an e-mail (INTELLIGENCE) when they recognise a suspect.

4.0      Equality Impact Assessment

4.1 An Equality Impact Assessment has been carried out and shows the proposals in this procedure would have little or no potential or actual differential impact on grounds of race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, transgender, disability, age, religion or belief or sexual orientation.

5.0      Risk Assessment

5.1 This SOP has been assessed as low risk.

6.0      Consultation

6.1 The following were asked to consult on this document:

7.0      Monitoring and Review

7.1 This procedure/SOP is scheduled for full review every two years and will be reviewed by the author and owner to ensure it still remains accurate and fit for purpose.

8.0      Security

8.1 Police have measures in place to protect the security of your data in accordance with our Information Management Policy (Policy W1000 – Information Management).

9.0      Retention and Disposal of Records

9.1 Police will hold data in accordance with the Records Review, Retention and Disposal Policy (Policy W1012 – Records Review, Retention and Disposal).

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