Speech to the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners AGM 2015

The commissioners’ speech outlined PCC’s statutory responsibilities in relation to the surveillance camera code of practice.

Tony Porter

Good morning and thank you to the association for inviting me to come and speak to you today.

As you will all be aware from the programme I’m the surveillance camera commissioner for England and Wales. Put in a nutshell it’s my role to ensure that surveillance cameras used in public spaces protect and support communities rather than spy on them.

This covers a number of types of surveillance camera – CCTV, body worn video, automatic number plate recognition (ANPR), Drones and facial recognition. Most of this technology is already being use by the majority of the 43 forces and if they’re not using them now they will be in the not too distant future. So, as technology advances so it seems so does the number of devices that can be used to capture your image on camera.

Before I talk to you about my role and what it is I do, I thought it would be worth giving you some background on me.

Prior to accepting this role I was head of intelligence at Barclays bank and before that a police officer for 30 years. Starting off as a bobby on the beat in Stockport and ending my career as a commander with responsibility for counter terrorism investigations throughout the London 2012 Olympic Games.

So I get how important the use of technology and surveillance is in supporting the executive arm of the state - supporting investigations and providing reassurance. But I also understand how invasive it can be – and how the public trust must be protected. Once lost it is not easy to recover.

Role and code

The incident which was probably a contributing factor to the creation of my role was project champion – some of you may have heard about this. A ‘ring of steel’ erected in a predominantly muslim area of the Birmingham to monitor a terrorist threat. There was no consultation with the local community who were outraged to discover they were all being monitored as potential terrorists. The system of around 200 cameras was never switched on and it cost around £3m and severely damaged the community’s relationship with the police.

My role was created under the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012. I was appointed by the Home Secretary but am independent from government and as I just mentioned I’m entrusted to ensure that surveillance camera systems are used to support and protect communities – not spy on them. To help me do this the Surveillance Camera Code of Practice and I am required to:

  • encourage compliance with the code
  • review the operation of the code
  • advise on any amendments to how the code should develop via my annual parliament report (which incidentally is due to be published in the next few weeks).

The code of practice contains 12 guiding principles which if followed will mean cameras are only ever used proportionately, transparently and effectively. It also covers organisations obligations as data controllers under the provisions of the Data Protection Act.

At the moment only relevant authorities – as set out under the Protection of Freedoms Act – must show due regard to the code. By and large relevant authorities are police forces and local authorities but it also includes police and crime commissioners. So, you have a statutory duty in relation to the code.


My role is a challenging one and the scope should not be underestimated. In the UK surveillance cameras are everywhere. CCTV is everywhere.

In an urban area in the UK you are likely to be captured by about 30 surveillance camera systems as you go about your daily business – not cameras, systems! If you want to know that’s probably around 300 cameras! It’s said the UK has the most surveillance in the world – “one nation under CCTV” as a famous street artist once daubed on a wall in London – those of you with a penchant for street art will immediately know that was Banksy. And that resonates with me somewhat, it’s true – it is everywhere!

In a British Security Industry Association report they estimated between four to six million cameras in the UK. I’m sure you’ll agree that it is a mind boggling figure.

That report was two years ago so that number will have increased, particularly when you take into account the roll out of body worn video and increasing use of drones.

So the scope of my role is huge – touching on millions of people and most sectors you can think of. Returning to the relevant authorities I spoke about earlier they account for about five percent of the six million cameras.

The code doesn’t cover all operators of surveillance cameras because the government wanted to take a light touch and incremental approach to regulation. Although, I’m charged with encouraging voluntary adoption of the code amongst those who fall outside the narrow definition of a relevant authority.

And even though there is CCTV everywhere people like it and in the most part the public overwhelmingly support it’s use. Research has shown that 84% of people support CCTV in a public space – there’s lots of CCTV in the UK and people like it.

So, as you can see the scope of my role is big!

But I’m not doing this on my own. To help me in my role I have an advisory council to advise me on strategic issues affecting the sector. It’s is made up of a diverse range of stakeholders including the NPPC lead on CCTV, ACC Mark Bates, and Tony Lloyd and Jim Battle [who you will all know] to represent the views of PCCs.

I also have a standards group who works with me to determine how I can raise standards across all types of surveillance camera system.


The standard of systems varies greatly – I’ve seen some excellent local authority, town centre systems and examples or cross organizational work between local authorities, police forces and business. At the same time I’ve seen ageing, substandard systems capturing images that are so poor they can not be used as evidence in court and ultimately are no good to anyone.

If anyone in the room knows the british standard for operating CCTV in a control room they will get a prize no I thought not and nor should you know! It’s actually BS7958.

Reaching this standard really demonstrates that you have a well run control room and you’d think that organisations would be keen to meet this standard. In reality only a handful of councils have achieved it, around 2 to 3 per cent. Cost is often cited as a factor for not meeting this standard.

And I am aware as anyone that austerity is still biting as hard as it ever was – particularly in the public sector. In this financial year alone (2015-16) councils in the UK will have to find £2.6 billion of savings – astronomical!

The provision of town centre, public space CCTV in the UK is not a statutory function that local authorities must provide. So, I’m beginning to see evidence that councils are looking at reducing or already have reduced their CCTV coverage.

I’ve seen councils in large towns like Blackpool and Derby stop monitoring their systems twenty-four seven. CCTV managers’ roles are being cut and supervisors with little or no knowledge of CCTV are being left to report to senior managers.

This is a worrying situation – what will be the impact on effective and efficient policing?


In these austere times should there be more cross organisational working with many bearing the costs of CCTV. As you will know CCTV is used by a whole host of organisations for example the images gathered during and after the riots we had in 2011 were collected from private and public sector cameras. The reason for its use also varies from public safety, deterring crime, traffic management and crowd control but to name a few.

More often than not systems are used in the same areas independently of each other, covering the same space, using different networks or fibre and for the same purpose. So, if we’re all doing the same or similar things why aren’t we doing it together? Why aren’t we stream-lining, collaborating and learning from one another? I’m not saying we aren’t because I know there is collaboration happening between organisations. I recently visited the public space CCTV control room in Rugby. This was a great example of working together. The public space CCTV is funded by local businesses – the maintenance, network costs, staffing costs and so on. It’s operated by an independent organisation, Rugby First, but as an agent of the local authority. I don’t believe that this kind of collaboration is unusual but what was interesting about Rugby was that they are not funded by local government. I believe it’s the only model of its kind in the country.

And there are other examples like Manchester and Glasgow.

So, collaboration is definitely taking place but on what sort of scale? Is it the exception rather than the norm? I often hear stories of police not being able to download data in the right format. Or that a shoplifter being tracked by council public space CCTV is lost when they walk into a shopping centre where the system is privately owned as they are not linked.

There seem to be clear benefits of collaboration and designing networks that work together across organisational and geographical boundaries.

Can you see a situation where large metropolitan cities like London or Manchester where multiple agencies could pool resources? They could brigade control rooms to reduce their number to cover an entire city. Rather than the current situation where there are numerous control rooms. This would almost certainly reduce operational costs and lead to other savings.

You may be sitting here thinking this is all very well and good but what has it got to do with me? I think you could play a role here. You routes into the police, local authorities and business – are you able to start fostering this type of collaboration on your patch? It’s something for you to think about.


And PCCs are a relevant authority under the Protection of Freedoms Act so have a statutory duty with regard to the surveillance camera code of practice. You also play a vital role in representing your communities and holding the police to account.

You may also be thinking my force doesn’t own any town centre CCTV or any CCTV for that matter and you are right [most of the police’s stock of surveillance camera system is in ANPR and body worn video]. But in the main it is the police who are the main recipients of CCTV footage – using it in prosecutions and to build cases. But as I’ve just said standards vary greatly as does quality so how does that square against efficient and effective policing.

And as funding is being cut what impact will that have on the CCTV provision in your area. In some parts of the country PCCs are stepping in to help fund town centre, public space CCTV because they see its value in crime prevention and resolution. I’m actually visiting Richard Rhodes in Cumbria, where this has recently happened, tomorrow. And this is not an isolated case.

Equally some PCCs have withdrawn funding from town center schemes because they say research doesn’t show it makes a difference to crime in the area – I’ve seen some instances where this has been met with a backlash of criticism from business and communities who want CCTV.

Elsewhere, I’ve seen the police in Cambridge say they won’t view CCTV footage for bike thefts as the footage is generally so poor – Cambridge has the most bike thefts per capita in the UK.

So, there is a disconnect here – in some areas CCTV is valued as an excellent tool for policing elsewhere it’s dismissed. I often hear from Local Authorities CCTV Managers that they never get any feedback from forces on how effective CCTV has been in aiding investigations, arrests and convictions. How can they evidence its value to their councilors with ever diminishing budgets if they’re getting no feedback on it’s effectiveness? How do they know their cameras aren’t fit for purpose if no one tells them?

I visited a London Borough last week who in one month through their use of ANPR identified and detained eight stolen cars worth almost £150,000 – one borough, in one month. This is the sort of good news around surveillance cameras that should be sung from the rooftops!

Mark Bates has recently set up a working group to promote best practice within CCTV in policing to help improve successful outcomes and develop joint working practices where CCTV is a key delivery factor.
It is looking at routes to provide feedback to operators of CCTV, training and to promote CCTV as a tool for policing.

This group will be invaluable in helping to improve the use of CCTV by all forces in England and Wales. It has only been convened recently so is still in the scoping stages of its work but I would encourage all of you to urge your Chief Constables to take a keen interest in what comes out of this group.

PCC funding

So, some of you are putting funding into local authority CCTV – elsewhere PPCs are funding mobile ANPR units and body worn video. These are both vital tools that can really help policing and as technology advances we should embrace it.

But as you’re investing in this technology are you doing this in a way that complies with your statutory requirements under the Protection of Freedoms Act – after all you are relevant authorities.

Are you ensuring that the police forces you work with are consulting your communities, are they carrying out privacy impact assessments and are they using signage to tell people surveillance cameras are being used? Do your forces publish the numbers of ANPR cameras they use?

The political fall out of an ill conceived system that’s not publicised is potentially significant – think of project champion. This is magnified even more greatly when you think about Snowden, the concerns about the recent revelations about GCHQ’s access to individuals’ smart phones and smart TV that record their owners conversations – the list goes on.

So, surveillance is an ever increasingly hot topic – every day there is something in the media related to it. Over the last five to ten years we’ve seen an interest in surveillance from civil liberty groups, politicians and the media as well as members of the public.

People are a lot savvier when it comes to surveillance.

CCTV, ANPR and body worn video can be great tools in modern day policing but this can’t be at the price of public confidence in policing. You must hold your chief constables to account on these issues. Ensure that they consult the public, use systems proportionately and are transparent – why don’t forces publish numbers of ANPR cameras in use?!

Facial recognition

Another technology which is now much more of a reality is automatic facial recognition. Again this could be a very good tool for policing used to pick faces out of a crowd and match them against a database of images. You can see a situation where this could be used to pick out known hooligans on their way to a football match or trouble-makers at a protest or demonstration.

How this technology is managed is crucial and there is already media interest in the UK and abroad about the databases the technology matches against. The database of images that the FBI has is around 51 million images. In the UK our database is touching 18 million images of made up of custody photos - they include photos of people never charged, or others cleared of an offence. This will be something the Home Office will shortly report on and something that the Biometrics Commissioner is looking into.

You may have also seen the media stories a few months ago about its use at the download music festival by the Leicestershire police force. When it should have been Slipknot, Muse or Kiss picking up the headlines for their head-banging (I’m told these are heavy metal acts that performed at the festival) it was facial recognition.

A key concern was that it was being used without the public’s knowledge causing an outcry from civil liberties groups and people who’d attended the festival.

Again there is a role here for you to hold forces feet to the fire. Are they being transparent and open about their use of automatic facial recognition? How are they collating their databases? And do they have the right procedures and policies in place?


Just before I conclude for you to ask questions I want to reiterate:

  • you play a vital link between communities and police forces – you can drive up standards and make CCTV more effective
  • proportionate use CCTV and other surveillance camera systems can play a crucial role in helping you and your chief constables to achieve aims around – safer streets, less crime and more convictions
  • as a relevant authority you must be banging the drum about forces adhering to the 12 guiding principles in the surveillance camera code of practice
  • familiarise yourself with the code, ask forces if they are complying and get in touch with me if you have any queries.

Thank you

Published 22 October 2015