Public space CCTV: research findings

This report presents findings from a mixed methods research project commissioned to better understand the provision and use of public space CCTV in Scotland.

4. Local Authority and Police Scotland Survey Findings

This chapter discusses findings from the survey distributed to police and local authorities regarding the use of public space CCTV in Scotland. The chapter covers issues pertaining to general CCTV provision; equipment and maintenance; monitoring and footage; purpose; impact; funding, and future visions.

4.1 Survey overview and sample limitations

Eighteen responses were received across 18 local authorities, covering approximately 62% of the total Scottish population (National Records of Scotland [NRS], 2022a) representing a mix of urban, town and rural areas[2]. Responses were received from two different respondents based in one local authority area and these were both included in the analysis. One respondent provided responses on behalf of two local authorities and their responses were included in the analysis. The analysis was based on the number of respondents, rather than the number of local authorities.

  • Of the 17 local authority respondents who provided their job title, eight indicated that they worked in areas related to community safety, security or anti-social behaviour. Five responses came from those in project work, management and professional services and four respondents stated they worked in property, traffic, and urban planning.
  • Due to the small sample size and the limits this places on respondent anonymity, details about which local authorities and police divisions responded have not been included.
  • Twenty-six responses were received across 10 police divisions; three Police Scotland divisions are not represented in the survey sample. Due to the high number of responses received from one police division, and the large number of police divisions represented by two respondents, accurate descriptive statistical analysis was not possible for many questions. Police data is therefore included only where sufficient detail was provided via questions that were open-ended.
  • Twenty-five Police Scotland respondents provided details of their job title. These responses were collated into three categories – police officers, management, and CCTV operations. Thirteen respondents were police officers, seven were management and five worked within CCTV operations. One of the respondents did not indicate what their job title was.
  • The survey data came from a self-selecting, non-random sample of local authorities and Police Scotland divisions. Responses have been analysed on the basis of individual responses and comparisons between specific local authorities and/or police divisions cannot be made. Due to not all respondents answering all of the questions for both surveys, analysis is based on the number of respondents to the respective questions.
  • The findings from the survey are not representative of all local authorities or police divisions in Scotland, and therefore cannot be generalised to Scotland as a whole. Rather, respondents, were able to provide detailed, technical, and specific information about the provision of public space CCTV in their local authority and/or police division, as well as their perspectives on the impact of this technology. In some cases, respondents were willing and able to provide detailed responses about specific issues in the planning, delivery, and future of public space CCTV that were not covered in the survey (via free-text answers) but had relevance and weight, nonetheless.

4.2 General CCTV provision

Public space CCTV is a well-established technology in the local authority areas and Police Scotland divisions surveyed – 11 out of 18 local authority respondents and 15 out of 25 Police Scotland respondents indicated that CCTV had been used in their area for more than 20 years. Two local authority respondents and five Police Scotland respondents answered ‘don’t know’ to the question. There was only one local authority that had used public space CCTV for less than five years, but this was due to public space CCTV being contracted out to an “arm’s length company” up until the last five years.[3]

When asked, “How many public space CCTV cameras are there in your area?”, 13 local authority respondents provided details (excluding one respondent who answered ‘zero’). The highest number of cameras reported was 524 in an urban local authority. As expected, the lowest number of public space CCTV cameras (20) was reported in a rural local authority. The majority (nine) of respondents reported having between 20-80 cameras.

Eleven local authority respondents were able to provide more detail on the placement of their public space CCTV cameras when asked to give an estimation of how many cameras were located in a provided list of 20 options. The results are displayed below in Figure 1 and indicate that, across these local authorities, public space CCTV is primarily placed in residential areas, city centres and town high streets, accounting for 74% of cameras. CCTV can also be found in other locations, including thoroughfares and parks.

Figure 1. Public space CCTV placement in 11 local authority areas

4.3 The intended purpose of public space CCTV

Eleven out of the 13 local authority respondents that answered the multi-response question, “When first installed, what was the specified purpose of public space CCTV in your area?”, stated that the specified purpose of public space CCTV was to prevent/manage crime, nine stated to prevent/manage anti-social behaviour and 11 stated to reduce the fear of crime. Only one of the local authority respondents surveyed included a purpose other than this, stating that “income generation” was an additional purpose. Two local authority respondents stated that they did not know what the specified purpose at installation was.

Though the stated purposes of public space CCTV were clearly identified by the majority of local authority respondents, in response to the question, “At the time of first installation, were these aims formally specified in policy documents?”, six out of 12 respondents did not know whether these aims were formally specified in policy documents.

When asked, “Has the purpose of use of public space CCTV changed since it was originally installed?”, eight out of the 13 of local authority respondents stated that it had not. Three stated it had, with one local authority respondent pointing to better working relationships with Local Authority Liaison Officers (LALOs) and internal services such as “housing, community safety, public protection, enforcement teams” changing the purpose of public space CCTV.

An expansion of objectives was also identified by two local authority respondents with one stating that public space CCTV was being used to tackle “areas such as environmental incivility…[and] provide public reassurance”. For one local authority, the recent completion of a large investment project to upgrade their public space CCTV system would “help keep the city safe and moving…with video analytics by producing counts, heatmaps and desire line infographics [a type of mapping that shows how places are linked together and how people use space]” to show how the public move through the city environment. These would produce “valuable insights [for]… transport, urban planning, active travel and many more departments” and inform decision-making and daily operations.

Twelve local authority respondents answered questions about training for CCTV operators, with eight stating that operators received some kind of training and the remaining four stating that they did not know. When asked about the level and type of training offered to CCTV operators, five of the seven respondents who answered referred to Security Industry Authority (SIA) training, including two who also mentioned data protection.

Two local authority respondents who stated that the purpose of public space CCTV had changed also noted that the type and level of operator training had similarly changed and appeared to include more legislation and planning training. One local authority respondent stated that managers received training on “legislation, control room management, planning, networking and…advice from consultants”; another stated that their operators were receiving training on the Regulation of Investigatory Powers (Scotland) Act (RIPSA).

4.4 Maintenance, equipment and footage

Out of the 13 local authority respondents that answered the question, “Who owns the public space CCTV cameras in your local authority area?”, 11 reported that they were solely in local authority ownership. One stated that the local authority had owned the CCTV cameras in their area since 2018 but, for 20 years prior to this, they had been owned by an “arm’s length” company. One reported that “private businesses and residents” also owned public space CCTV cameras in their area.

When asked about the kind of specifications that public space CCTV cameras have, the 11 local authority respondents offered similar specifications (including Wired (cable) transmission, Digital, Wireless (cloud, 4G, 5G, point to point, mesh network) transmission, HD, Pan and tilt, Zoom, Video motion detection/sensor, Night vision), whilst the remaining two did not know. However, the respondent based in a local authority which had not had an upgrade for more than 12 years described technology with noticeably fewer features than in other areas. A respondent based in a local authority which had an upgrade less than a year ago, identified technical specifications that were not offered as options on the survey (“Fixed View, 360 view”).

In response to the question, “On average, how often does the CCTV system need to be serviced?”, eight out of 13 local authority respondents reported that the CCTV system in their area needed to be serviced between six months and one year. One reported that the system needed servicing more often; another local authority respondent stating that they needed to service them “[c]onstantly…[as] digital systems require consistent monitoring, firmware upgrades and troubleshooting [and] [c]ameras require annual planned preventative maintenance”.

Regarding camera ownership, out of the 12 local authority respondents who responded to the question, “What, in your view, are the biggest challenges in maintaining the CCTV systems in your area?”[4], seven ranked funding as the biggest challenge, with a further two respondents ranking funding in their top three. Others ranked as the biggest challenge were staffing (n=2), technical specifications/standards (n=1), sourcing spare parts (n=1), and vandalism (n=1). Whilst respondents’ remaining answers were distributed across options, there was a concentration on two challenges in particular: seven ranking technical specifications/standards as the second or third biggest challenge, and five selecting staffing. Among the least challeging aspects, ‘procurement’ and ‘battery life/power failure’ are suggested. Furthermore, two local authority respondents suggested two additional challenges that were not options on the survey – “contractor’s service levels” and “cybersecurity”.

Ownership and overall responsibility for public space CCTV facilities is generally the remit of the local authority, with Police Scotland being the other organisation playing a key role. Ten of the 13 local authority respondents who answered questions about ownership of the public space CCTV facilities in their area stated that the local authority had ownership in some capacity, with nine having sole owenership and one respondent listing Police Scotland as also having ownership. All ten of these respondents noted that the local authoirty had responsibility for public space CCTV control and monitoring, with nine saying the local authoirty had overall responsibility and one respondent indicating this was split with Police Scotland.

Three local authority respondents reported that Police Scotland had sole ownership for the public space CCTV monitoring facilities in their areas; two of these stated that Police Scotland had overall responsibility and one stated that the local authority shared overall responsibility with Police Scotland.

All 12 of the local authority respondents that responded to questions about footage sharing stated that they shared footage with Police Scotland. Other emergency services (e.g. Scottish Fire and Rescue Service), local businesses, transport agencies, and the general public were identifed as groups/agencies that share footage with local authorities.

4.5 Review and practice standards

Ten out of 12 local authority respondents who responded to the question, “Has your local authority area consulted national/international standards and regulations on the use of public space CCTV?”, stated that national/international standards and regulations had been consulted, with the remaining two answering ‘don’t know’. Figure 2, below, outlines the types of standards and regulations local authority respondents stated they used from a list of multiple choice options provided.[5]

Figure 2. Types of CCTV standards and regulations consulted by local authority respondents[6]
types of CCTV standards and regulations consulted by 12 local authority respondents. Ten respondents had consulted GDPR/Data Protection Act, 9 code of practice, 6 British Standards and 3 answered other.

When asked, ‘Does your local authority undertake performance reviews of CCTV provision?’, five out 12 local authority respondents stated that their area undertook regular performance reviews of CCTV provision. They all provided detail on the frequency of these reviews, with one respondent stating that they undertake such reviews weekly, and one stating reviews happened monthly. Three stated that reviews were carried out on an annual/biannual basis.

4.6 Evaluating impact, effectiveness and benefits

Local authority respondents were asked, “Here are some of the uses of public space CCTV. Please rank them[7] in terms of when you think public space CCTV is most useful in your area, with 1 being the most useful”, and were provided with 20 options in addition to an ‘Other’ category with a space to provide more detail. Once again, crime prevention featured prominently with six respondents out of 12 ranking public space CCTV as most useful in this area: the most commonly selected response. Public space CCTV was also identified as most useful in aiding police investigations by three local authority respondents. The focus of responses highlighted the importance played by public space CCTV in crime prevention and control, with a less use in community focused practices such as managing facilities, missing persons cases, monitoring accidents, parking/traffic control or fly-tipping/dumping.

When asked, “Have there been any evaluations of the impact or effectiveness of public space CCTV in your area in the last 10 years?”, four local authority respondents reported there had been and four others answered ‘don’t know’. These were described as internal evaluations and usually involved some form of partnership working with Police Scotland, whereby police statistics and objectives were shared to help evaluate impact.

In response to the question, “In your opinion, are the benefits of CCTV measured in your area, and if so, how?”, five out of the 13 local authority respondents identified Police Scotland data as a measure of the benefits of public space CCTV. Two local authorities also identified community safety statistics as a way that they measured the benefits of public space CCTV, with one of these stating that this was their only method used to measure this metric. Six local authority respondents reported that the benefits of public space CCTV were not measured at all but one added that it was “something we would like to explore”.

4.7 Funding

When asked, “Who funds the public space CCTV system in your area?”, the 13 local authority respondents who responded to this question identified local authorities (n=13) and Police Scotland (n=6) as contributors to the funding of public space CCTV. Local authorities were identified as the sole funder by five of these respondents. Three local authority respondents stated that their area received grant programme funding alongside local authority funding.

When asked about beneficiaries of public space CCTV that do not currently contribute to its funding, Police Scotland was identified by five out of 11 local authority respondents. For one local authority respondent, who reported that their area was in receipt of funding from Police Scotland, the suggestion was that the police’s contribution should be bigger as they “ultimately benefit the most from the outputs in terms of benefits realisation and savings on resources”. Other beneficiaries who did not contribute funding identified were businesses such as retailers and night-time economy establishments, legal firms, Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) and HMRC/DWP.

For the 11 local authority respondents who answered the question, “What does funding currently support?”, there was little variation. Funding was primarily spent on maintenance and upgrades to hardware, software, and the network as a whole. In two cases, the local authority respondents identified staffing as another key area of funding.

For five of the nine local authority respondents who provided details of development plans over the next three years, upgrades were either recently completed or planned with funding secured. One respondent stated that although they had a “very limited budget”. they would “continue to try and replace cameras one at a time and…undertake a comprehensive integration exercise”. Another explained that they had been “upgrading from analogue to digital since 2018, 60% completed. Working through this depending on budgets year on year”.

4.8 Reflections and future visions

In the final section of the survey, respondents were given the opportunity to provide more open-ended responses.

The questions asked were:

1) What are some of the biggest challenges to the implementation and use of public space CCTV in your area currently and in the near future?

Response: 11 local authority respondents, 14 Police Scotland respondents

2) What changes to public space CCTV would improve the quality of life for local communities in your area?

Response: 10 local authority respondents, 15 Police Scotland respondents

3) In the last 10 years, what has been the most significant impact of public space CCTV in your area?

Response: 11 local authority respondents, 14 Police Scotland respondents

4) Please feel free to provide any additional information or comments on the use and impact of public space CCTV, including reflections on any of the following: Integration of systems (BWV, drones); covert use of overt systems; compliance with DPA; subject access requests; existence of a CoP, public awareness and trust (legitimacy); technological advancement (AI, FRT); relations with LA’s, etc.

Response: five local authority respondents, six Police Scotland respondents

Respondents offered detailed and reflective answers that shed light on the current challenges they encounter while working in the area of public space CCTV, as well as the impact of this technology.

4.8.1 Reflections

Funding, resourcing, and being able to keep pace with changing technology were all identified by local authority respondents as key challenges to the use and implementation of public space CCTV and as avenues that offered better impacts for the community. Respondents were keen for an expansion in the areas covered by public space CCTV and for “flexibility” in the technology available to them to allow them to respond, “quickly to meet emerging trends”.

A Police Scotland respondent also raised issues relating to resourcing, more specifically in the area of staffing. They indicated that there were “decreasing numbers of Council CCTV operators to control the system” and “[i]nsufficient staff and equipment deployed to maintaining the system”. To improve the current landscape, respondents suggested that more cameras be installed, and more resources be directed to monitoring footage. One respondent referred specifically to a “CCTV review/investment/upgrade akin to that undertaken” in another area in Scotland as a good example of how to “optimise provision, and in so doing, maximise public safety”.

One Police Scotland respondent also suggested that cameras should be upgraded to HD and suggested implementing regular cleaning and maintenance of the cameras. Reference to cleaning/maintenance of cameras was also raised by two other respondents. Issues around maintenance and, in particular, faulty cameras were described as “a huge hindrance to the effectiveness of CCTV”.

Other challenges outside of staffing, equipment and technology were identified by local authority respondents, amongst them concerns about surveillance security and the need for better guidance about using technology from global manufacturers. One respondent stated that “Hikvision/Chinese Technology guidance issued by UK Government [is] both confusing and does not provide a legal framework for implementing recommendations”.

A number of Police Scotland respondents suggested a need for additional resources to keep up with technological developments and upgrades of CCTV systems to better support police work. One respondent explained that “every improvement in the quality of footage assists the police with identifying and prosecuting offenders. This in turn makes the communities a safer place to live.” Another stated that “[f]unding remains an imperative” when addressing the challenges in maintaining public space CCTV.

Alongside the calls for more funding to cover additional cameras and better technological specifications, one Police Scotland respondent remarked that cuts to funding “would create consequential impacts on service delivery for…diverse communities, and with CCTV integral to the majority of prosecution cases submitted to the Crown and Procurator Fiscal Service, it could be argued, criminal justice outcomes.”

Overall, for Police Scotland respondents, the challenges were the need for more regular maintenance, a “lack of available cameras”, and upgrades of existing systems. When given the opportunity to expand on these issues, respondents described how newer systems, especially those utilising 4G networks, had been faulty and unreliable since installation. One respondent suggested that systems should revert back to being fibre-based as these provide better quality imaging.

One Police Scotland respondent also raised concerns about the varying quality of cameras across different locations, explaining that there was a “post code lottery in terms of the ability to detect offenders using public space footage”. Another Police Scotland respondent indicated that large urban areas were identified as having cameras that record footage of a higher quality while outlying areas operate on standard definition cameras that receive little cleaning and maintenance.

A further issue for Police Scotland that emerged out of the survey data related to small towns and rural areas. In terms of challenges, one respondent noted that “rural stations are not linked into the 24-hour operator”.

Two Police Scotland respondents gave examples of how footage in small towns is not being stored in police stations, but by local authorities, limiting the police’s access to obtaining and/or viewing footage during investigations. One suggested a need for “[i]ncreased coverage in rural towns/villages which could also be remotely monitored within a single location”. Another respondent suggested a change was made to link rural stations to the main hub.

For three local authority respondents, the most significant impact of public space CCTV was in the prevention or detection of crime and anti-social behaviour or reducing violence in their area. Another stated that public space CCTV provided “public reassurance”. One local authority respondent suggested “expanding the functionality of the CCTV further beyond crime and antisocial behaviour”, in response to the question on changes that would improve life for local communities. This was seen as offering “statistical insight to improve the built environment, urban planning and mobility”.

Two local authority respondents pointed out the role that public space CCTV plays in missing persons cases. With one stating that CCTV has helped with “tracing missing persons [and] identifying homeless persons and finding safe space for them” with one remarking that, in their local authority, public space CCTV was considered “imperative” in helping with missing persons cases.

Police Scotland respondents reported predominantly on the benefits of public space CCTV when asked to reflect on significant impacts. For Police Scotland, it is clear that public space CCTV is considered “an integral part of everyday policing”, supporting both crime detection and investigation. One respondent explained that the “passive capability [of public space CCTV] was critical to achieving positive outcomes for victims/ communities/supporting criminal justice partners…offering opportunities to expedite outcomes for the benefit of victims / communities…and in so doing, keeping communities safe”.

4.8.2 Future visions

Local authority respondents shared plans for the future which were focused on technological upgrades, a better integration between legislation and practice, and a focus on and commitment to partnership working. Similarly, for Police Scotland, when reflecting on current challenges and the future of CCTV, there were calls for more streamlined operational practice, improved camera and network quality, and access to cameras/footage across the country. One respondent further suggested a “best practice hub” to both aid streamlining of practice and allow police divisions and local authorities to learn from one another.

The overall perspective offered by those responding from within the police was that public space CCTV played a significant role in crime detection and prevention. One respondent noted: “CCTV plays the biggest part while investigating major crime in Scotland” and any delay in keeping up with change could have major implications in ensuring the safety of the public and detection of violent criminals”. However, as one local authority respondent put it – “the opportunities are endless - but time and money is limited”. Certainly, funding seems a pressing and current challenge for those working in public space CCTV in Scotland but, equally, the lack of a national approach and formal standardised best practice is adding to the strains of budgets and resource allocation.

4.9 Summary

Public space CCTV is a well-established technology in the local authorities and police divisions that were surveyed. It is seen by Police Scotland and local authorities as an essential tool in the prevention of crime and anti-social behaviour, and cameras are primarily being used in city centres and residential areas to fulfil these purposes.

Both Police Scotland and local authority respondents consider public space CCTV as playing a central role in crime prevention, minimising anti-social behaviour, and promoting community safety. However, in some local authorities, public space CCTV is being used to benefit the public in other ways, including in improving urban planning, aiding missing persons enquiries, and as a form of income generation and there is ambition to expand its functionality in these areas.

In this study, most local authorities said they had significantly improved their public space CCTV systems in the past three years. However, Police Scotland expressed concern about the maintenance and technology standards. They noticed a difference in image quality and the number and placement of cameras in different locations. Police Scotland noted that these discrepancies were largely due to geographical factors, with urban centres having better technology and more frequent maintenance.

Local authorities are playing a central role in collaborating with other agencies and supporting their work. In particular, they are working closely with Police Scotland in the management and use of public space CCTV. There are clear benefits to this kind of collaborative working, especially in the sharing of data for evaluation work. However, there is a feeling from some that other agencies who are benefitting from public space CCTV and footage sharing could be providing support and resources to their local authority partners.

Funding is another area where the demands of both stakeholder groups are complicated and difficult to balance. Police Scotland respondents are keen to emphasise that local authorities need more funding but, from the local authority perspective, Police Scotland emerge as a key beneficiary of public space CCTV who either do not currently contribute to funding or could be contributing more.

Local authorities are working to ensure their equipment stays functional and useful through regular maintenance and upgrades. The main challenges in maintaining public space CCTV identified appear broadly intertwined as funding facilitates improvements in technical specifications and systems. There is evident variation across local authority areas and an appetite for better equipment and the latest technology expressed by those working in the areas.

Local authorities who responded to this survey expressed that they are invested in the improvement and upgrade of public space CCTV systems, with certain local authorities trying to utilise the technology to generate data and benefit local communities in ways that go beyond crime prevention. However, there are challenges in funding and resourcing, as well as a lack of consistency in policy and practice.

As is clear from the responses to this survey, those working in the area of public space CCTV are keen to share their experiences and make improvements. One local authority respondent explained that “progression of partnership work and collaboration on programmes” was an important part of the use and impact of public space CCTV. There is a lot of support for a more centralised and standardised approach to public space CCTV which, according to one local authority respondent, would help “reflect best practice or unity nationwide”.

Both police and local authorities expressed an interest in a national hub/centre of best practice and in the standardisation and centralisation of both policy and practice. One local authority respondent stated that “there needs to be a Scotland CCTV network group where national issues can be discussed and agreed”. Here, both “both generic and individual problems” could be shared and advised upon. Another local authority respondent explained how they had both visited and hosted other local authority representatives and “shared best practice and got advice” demonstrating that this kind of skill sharing is being proactively sought out.

Given some of the issues that have emerged out of the survey data about the complications and challenges of police and local authority collaboration in the management and operation of public space CCTV, it could be a beneficial idea to explore more formalised ways to centralise, skill share, and work together.



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