British police forces are to explore the feasibility of a national database of CCTV images that would be on a par with the existing national databases for DNA and fingerprint samples.
This is despite news reports that the Metropolitan Police success rate in using CCTV to secure convictions is as low as 3%, and the cancellation of a national facial image database due to lack of funds.
Graeme Gerrard, deputy chief constable of Cheshire Police and chairman of the Association of Chief Police Officers' working group on CCTV and video, said CCTV was very useful in preventing, detecting, and investigating crime. Police also use it to monitor activity in potential and actual crime scenes, he said.
Gerrard said press reports on the poor success rate had ignored the fact that some sections of the Met had a "20% to 25%" success rate in using CCTV. But he said the lack of a national strategy in the past meant CCTV was less useful than it could be for police work.
The Home Office published a national CCTV strategy document in October 2007, which made 44 recommendations. Gerrard, a co-author of the report, said there were severe technological, managerial and logistical issues to overcome.
He said that most of the estimated 4.2 million CCTV systems now installed are owned by local government and the private sector. Few produce images usable by police to secure convictions without corroborating evidence, he said. "Even if we have a usable image, we still have to identify the person," he said.
He said his group would explore the feasibility of storing CCTV images of crimes and matching them against databases of known and unidentified offenders, as happens with DNA and fingerprint samples from crime scenes.
However, the National Police Improvement Agency announced the cancellation of fhe Facial Images National Database (FIND) project as of 31 March 2008. "The FIND pilot will not be rolled-out beyond those forces currently involved because there is no clear line of funding for a full national service," it said.
Gerrard said that funding for national CCTV projects was also tenuous. His group was working with others such as the British Standards Institute, the Department of Justice, the Information Commissioner's Office and others to develop standards for anyone who wanted to produce CCTV images that the police could use.