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.

5. Qualitative Interview Findings

5.1 Qualitative interview overview and sample limitations

Semi-structured qualitative interview topic guides were designed by the research team with input from the Scottish Government and Police Scotland. The topic guides included themes pertaining to:

  • Connections to place
  • Monitoring technology
  • Use, impact and effectiveness of public space CCTV
  • Safety and security

Qualitative interviews were conducted between January and February 2023 with stakeholders that work with or are impacted by public space CCTV in their local communities, including: residents/community groups, CCTV operators, police officers, and local government employees.

As evident from Table 3, 26 interview participants took part in the study across 13 interviews, with each interview lasting an average of 56 minutes. Participants ranged in age from 18 – 82 years old, lived or worked in over 10 different areas of Scotland, and included 14 women and 12 men. As detailed earlier, to protect participants’ anonymity, participants’ names and specific locations are not included in the report and instead more general descriptions and locations are used.

Table 3. Total number of participants for qualitative interviews
Local Authority employees Police officers CCTV operators Local residents/community group members
11 7 4 4

To make participation more inclusive and accessible for all participants, interviews were offered in several formats, including: one-to-one or group interviews that could be conducted in sit-down or ‘walking’ interview formats. Interviews took place either in-person or online (by video call) if preferred by the participant or due to geographical constraints. See Table 1 on page 16, for a breakdown of interviews and participants by the varying formats offered.

Further qualitative engagement with participants across the public space CCTV landscape in Scotland via participant observation would be worth keeping in mind for further studies in this area. A limitation of this study was that it did not specifically seek out gendered perspectives, nor perspectives from racialised and migrant communities, as this was outside the scope of this project but would be beneficial to consider in future research.

Interviews were designed to provide a situated, place-based context to understanding how communities across Scotland perceive the use and value of public space CCTV in their local areas. This chapter details the research findings from these interviews.

5.2 Community-based perceptions towards the use and value of public space CCTV

5.2.1 Public space CCTV and crime

A key theme across all interviews was the relationship between public space CCTV and crime. According to the 2011 National Strategy, public space CCTV is intended to play a significant role in the prevention, detection, and prosecution of crime (Scottish Government, 2011). The opinions of the community on this matter were divided. Most participants believed that CCTV cameras in public spaces could prevent crime. CCTV Operator 4, who worked in an urban area, felt that CCTV still played an important role in preventing, or at least displacing crime to other areas:

‘I think there’s still a deterrent there. I think it still gives an element of perceived safety. […] many of us will take routes home that we know are well-lit or have cameras there. I think we’re aware that there is an element of monitoring of them and, actually, there is probably a security thing there. I still believe that if people are going to commit a crime, they’re more likely to do it off camera if they can, particularly if they’re planning something. I think a chance interaction could still happen on camera and people don’t give much thought to that. The most serious of crimes and the ones that we really all want to avoid, I think there’s probably a level of premeditation in it, and I think with that premeditation means that you’re probably less likely to do it on camera [...]’ (CCTV Operator 4, urban area)

Public space CCTV, according to CCTV Operator 4, can provide security and safety to monitored areas because people are less likely to commit certain kinds of crimes on-camera. This sentiment was echoed by Police Supt. 2 who, below, reflects on his previous work in a town area:

‘Yes, so volume crime, your opportunist theft, your breach of the peace, your drinking in the street, much lower level…you know, even drug taking in the street, drug dealing in the street. These are the volume of crimes that we find. The other ones that are linked to many of these are assaults. […] Those are the kind of crimes that you would find day-in, daily that a CCTV system would identify offenders for.’ (Police Supt. 2, town area)

This evolving, multi-purpose use of public space CCTV includes additional objectives around environmental issues such as fly tipping, dog fouling, littering, and other forms of wildlife and biodiversity harm. Other participants also highlighted how both police officers and CCTV operators are increasingly responding to mental health and missing person cases, in which CCTV plays an important role. For example, Police Officer 4, who works in a town, expressed that he felt 70% of the work he did was mental health-related, as opposed to 30% which was crime-related.

While these interviews highlight the role of public space CCTV in potentially preventing and detecting certain kinds of crime including opportunist crimes, lower-level volume crime, and assault, this study has also found that the use and purpose of public space CCTV is slowly evolving outside the traditional crime-focussed remits of community safety to include assistance with vulnerable and missing persons, mental health emergencies, and environmental issues. As the use of public space CCTV expands, according to Local Government Employee 7, managing CCTV operations in an urban area, crime prevention and detection will remain its intended primary objective.

‘[CCTV] was seen as very much a positive, very much from a crime detection, prevention element. And I think that’s, that is the primary requirement for CCTV. It’ll never change in terms of its probably primary objective for public space CCTV. However, as time has evolved, you know, there’s other concerns, there’s other priorities and it’s how CCTV obviously evolves with it to provide those inputs and sort of support to that sort of changing need. But its primary purpose will always be, or should be […] around crime, around crime prevention, detection, public reassurance. If we look at our objectives, the key ones as time has evolved, we’ve started looking more at environmental issues, environmental crimes and instability.’ (Local Government Employee 7, urban area)

There is evidence that some local authorities do not have as many resources to use CCTV to responsively monitor the myriad issues they are faced with and, furthermore, that they sometimes find other ways to try and resolve problems in the community. For example, Local Government Employee 8, working in a rural area, explained that because CCTV is often not available/in place, due to funding issues, temporary CCTV signs, including laminated A4 signs, were sometimes displayed instead in an effort to prevent crime and make people feel safer in the absence of cameras. This local government participant remarked that public space CCTV signage can be as effective as mounting actual cameras in response to community issues, explaining that people may assume they are being watched and behave differently in light of the signage.

While putting up non-official CCTV signs does not represent sanctioned best practice, its use, and this account, highlight the variability of resources/funding across different regions and also how at least one local government team had responded to this challenge. CCTV signage is an important aspect of public space CCTV provision and many local residents in a different town area agreed that signage was as important as the cameras themselves in preventing crime and desired more signage and cameras in their community.

5.2.2 The use and value of public space CCTV footage as evidence

Along with crime prevention, public space CCTV also plays a significant role in evidencing and in the prosecution of crimes via the availability of footage as a form of evidence. Many police participants expressed views about the importance of CCTV footage as potential evidence, with some arguing that it was more important than CCTV’s crime prevention and detection functions. According to Police Officer 1 below, a city centre officer in an urban area, the value of public space CCTV is in its evidentiary ability to enforce judicial consequences for wrongdoing.

CCTV for me is a tool to prove what’s going on. I don’t think it’s going to alter people’s behaviours as a general rule. I think the youth of today have got somewhat more of a backbone than we might have had in our…and I think as a society we’re making no challenges or consequences for people […] Great tool but you need to use it to make consequences rather than changing their behaviours, as it were.’ (Police Officer 1, urban area)

In Police Officer 1’s opinion, CCTV is more effective as a form of evidence than as a way of preventing anti-social behaviours. Police Officer 4, a response officer working in a town area, situated CCTV footage within the typologies of evidence he works with in his job. He argued that eyewitnesses provide the best form of evidence, but that a case becomes even stronger if there is corroborative CCTV footage evidence to support the eyewitness testimony. Police Officer 4 expressed that CCTV evidence was particularly important in cases relating to the night-time economy, including those involving people under the influence of alcohol, missing persons, and mental health emergencies.

Many police participants discussed using different sources of CCTV footage including private footage from local malls and shopping centres, hospitals, and private residences, for evidence-gathering and responding to issues in the community. Using a mix of public and private footage provides police with a time-stamped narrative of someone’s movements over a period of time. However, for police to be able to get the best value from public space CCTV footage, it needs to be accessible and more easily shareable across the range of actors involved in a criminal case. Police Officer 1 explained some of the technical and training issues that he faced, issues that can potentially create barriers around CCTV evidence sharing.

‘We’re at the stage where we seize footage, we can only do so much as an individual. We’re not computer geniuses or scientists or operators. We hand it to the crime office, the crime office can’t play it, so they hand it back to the reporting officer and we’re going, well, I don’t know. We haven’t got that knowledge or skills or ability whereas Police Scotland should have that.’ (Police Officer 1, urban area)

CCTV footage could be better used and shared by police officers by being made available in different file formats; and further technical training could enable officers to use and share CCTV footage more efficiently. Police Scotland and the Scottish Government are currently exploring new ways to diversify forms of digital evidence and how it can be shared with the courts, in addition to training support (Scottish Government, 2023). One of these new developments, as explained by Police Supt. 2 below, will change how public space CCTV footage can be shared in the criminal justice system:

‘So we call it from crime scene to court room. We will provide the pathway for digital evidence, vis-à-vis CCTV and others, to come in. We will expand the processes and the system itself to other forms of digital evidence going forward, that’s audio recordings, that’s documentation sets because currently, you may not know this, but when we provide a report to the Fiscal, we generate it in Word, then we print it off, then we sign it and then we lodge it as a paper copy. It’s just ridiculous so we’ve got electronic signatures approved so now all you need to do is… Well, not now, but in the future, you’ll be able to type it and then just put that straight into DESC and then that’ll be a URL link back to the Fiscal for them just to open up.’ (Police Supt. 2, town area)

This ‘crime scene to court room’ pathway for public space CCTV evidence offers potential for increasing the value and effectiveness of CCTV footage as a form of evidence. The current pathway, as highlighted by police officers in this study, involves too many intermediaries, format changes, barriers, and time, whereas the future of public space CCTV could potentially be more streamlined, centralised, and internet-based.

5.2.3 Future directions in public space CCTV usage and purpose

As already mentioned, this study has found that the use and purpose of public space CCTV is evolving across different areas of Scotland. While crime prevention, detection and prosecution remain important, public space CCTV is also being used for environmental issues such as air quality and noise management, as well as to help with missing persons. According to Local Government Employee 9 who works in an urban area, the future direction of public space CCTV should not be confined to just community safety:

CCTV to me is just a visual sensor. We now, in smart cities, talk about connected places. And we’re talking about a massive proliferation of devices across every city really, to monitor air quality, noise, other environmental conditions, sensors in housing so we can monitor, you know, dampness and energy use and things like that. So CCTV, to me, is just part of the sensing system of a smart city. But it’s quite an important one and a slightly different one to many of the other sensors because, you know, it’s about people and safety and the movement of vehicles and the people around a city, making sure that is functioning well and to everybody’s benefit, you know? So there’s an awful lot that can be gained from seeing CCTV as part of that whole city monitoring, you know.’ (Local Government Employee 9, urban area)

As part of a ‘smart city’ scheme (Scottish Cities Alliance, 2016), Local Government Employee 9 expressed that public space CCTV should be embedded in more multi-dimensional and ecological approaches to monitoring a place, as part of a wider whole city monitoring approach. This exemplifies just one of the ways that public space CCTV may evolve in the future.

5.3 Patchwork governance and ad hoc provision

5.3.1 Governance and funding

A recurring theme across this study and echoed previously in the 2011 national strategy and the Scottish Community Safety Network’s 2019 review, is that the provision of public space CCTV across Scotland is a disjointed and ad-hoc landscape, as described by Police Supt. 2 below:

‘Right across the whole of the country there are different models, different processes, different…you know, some are council-funded, some are wholly police-funded. There are police-funded CCTV systems in the country…. Some are purely council-funded and the rest are a hybrid between them both […]’ (Police Supt. 2, town area)

The governance, operation, maintenance, and funding of public space CCTV across Scotland ranges from town to town, council to council, and police division to police division. These jurisdictional boundaries overlap one another, creating disparities in provision and operation between adjacent places. One police officer highlighted how the police division he oversaw had three local authorities each with their own unique CCTV governance and operation arrangements where some had 24/7 operation centres and state-of-the-art equipment networked with local authority housing associations and others had recording-only systems which meant there were a limited number of fixed cameras in the area and no local operation centre.

This variation in governance arrangements and resource provision makes it difficult to qualitatively comprehend the effectiveness of public space CCTV provision across Scotland. For example, in some communities, the recording-only models have been criticised as being less effective. Police Officer 3 reflected on working in a rural area that happens to have one of the only two operations centres in the whole local authority area:

‘[Towns 9 - 14], it’s all remote and I can’t…I’ve never worked there since it’s been like that and I can’t work out how it works. I can’t see how it’s successful. I can’t see it. Surely the idea of CCTV is that somebody’s watching it, I think. […] so if there’s an incident in [Town 9] on a Saturday night, anything as simple as an assault they can’t deal with it. Well, they can deal with it, that’s a lie but they can’t review that CCTV until Monday morning. But if it was a Bank Holiday, they can’t review it until Tuesday morning. I just don’t see how it’s serving communities. I don’t see how it’s serving victims. I don’t see how it prevents crime.’ (Police Officer 3, rural area)

Governance arrangements impact the effectiveness, value, and availability of public space CCTV. They are inextricably tied up with funding and investment, which will be discussed below, and therefore, is a highly politicised issue.

According to police, CCTV operator, and local government participants, the provision of public space CCTV in Scotland can be considered an arrangement between the Scottish Government and local authorities, with Police Scotland acting somewhat as a middleman between the national government and the 32 individual local authorities. As Police Supt. 1, working in Partnerships, Prevention and Community Wellbeing (PPCW), expressed:

‘The division I work within at the minute is responsible for managing the payment of all CCTV systems in Scotland […] which to me doesn’t make sense. So basically, [PPCW is] the conduit between the local authorities and the Scottish Government for the payments of the money, so everything comes through [the department] in effect. Which I don’t really understand why, but that’s been the case since I became part of this division. For me, there’s no locus for Police Scotland to be involved in that. It should simply be a case of Scottish Government allocate the funding to the local authorities and that’s the relationship. I don’t know why Police Scotland is in the middle of it all.’ (Police Supt. 1, urban area)

The involvement of Police Scotland in this arbiter role for public space CCTV funding provision is considered by senior police to be a remnant of legacy arrangements before the merging of Police Scotland. However, it is unclear to some of those involved why this is still the case.

Nevertheless, funding, investments, and budgeting were important topics in police, local government, and CCTV operator interviews. CCTV Operator 1, based in an urban area, highlighted how public space CCTV has ongoing costs, not just with installation, but with maintenance as well which, he noted, can be expensive.

‘Unfortunately, CCTV costs money. It doesn’t make money. It costs money. People seem to assume, you’ve got a camera in place, it’s there forever. It’s a mechanical device living outside. Weather issues, rodents chewing cables, it’s just an ongoing problem basically.’ (CCTV Operator 1, urban area)

Funding public space CCTV is a complex issue. In some instances, local authorities pool resources together to fund public CCTV systems which can help to alleviate local disparities. However, this requires a great deal of cooperation and responsibility. As Police Supt. 1 describes:

‘There are basically three council areas and they’ve all come together to purchase CCTV equipment for [Region 8] as a whole. And said that it seems to be working very well, other than when the software doesn’t work.’ (Police Supt. 1, urban area)

On an operational level, blended governance and funding models can lead to some confusion and complications for resource sharing and operation centre housing between local authorities, police, and commercial operators. CCTV Operator 3 in a rural area, highlighted how the local council had control over use and maintenance of cameras and equipment where she worked, but the operation centre and her position were funded by the police.

However a number of benefits to blended governance and funding models were also identified. In an urban area, local city centre police operated out of a local council building, and the privately contracted CCTV operators worked in a police station on the outskirts of the city. The CCTV operation centre was imminently being transferred to the local council building despite it being operated via a police-private partnership because the city centre police officers who used it the most were also based in the council building. While there were important boundaries between each of these agencies, partnership work and collaboration are integral to using public space CCTV. Moreover, CCTV operators negotiate relationships not just with police, but also private local businesses in the area. In turn, police, such as Police Officer 1 below, also rely on private commercial CCTV networks from local retail centres and ShopSafe/Pub Watch networks.

‘[…] [the town square], high area for us at the moment because there’s a lot of antisocial behaviour, youth disorder, drinking, drug taking and all the rest of it. So, we rely on [shopping centre] to cover a lot of it. Our cameras are out there but because of the foliage of the trees it’s very awkward, so we have to use a combination of both for evidence and things.’ (Police Officer 1, urban area)

According to Police Officer 1, private CCTV systems can make up for gaps in public space CCTV coverage. Footage sharing requires paperwork and documentation, but many police participants expressed that commercial CCTV operators are cooperative and process requests quickly. As Police Officer 2 describes below, ShopSafe links are integral to his work, creating open communication channels with local businesses and CCTV operators.

‘So, it does work both ways so we’re always in that constant communication and that’s why the ShopSafe works so effectively. All the partner agencies and all the shops and clubs and that because they’ve got their own CCTV, we can utilise them as well.’ (Police Officer 2, urban area)

CCTV operators can notify police of things ‘kicking off’ and in turn, police are able to use CCTV operators as an eye in the sky during live incidents. Police use of private CCTV communication links supports the use and objectives of public space CCTV more generally. However, investments in public space systems are still necessary and have value. Upgrades to public space CCTV systems can have tangible impacts, such as in the anecdote described by CCTV Operator 1, in an urban area, below:

‘As soon as we got the first 4K cameras we had an elderly chap with dementia from [Town 21] so we can hear that on this radio. He used to drive for a haulage company based in [City 6] and he disappeared in [Town 21], no idea where he is, cold winter time. He went out with the dog, a thin jacket or cardigan to go a quick walk and gone, nobody could find him up there […] With the new camera, ‘that’s him, that’s his dog’, sent the description back. Because we’ve got the equipment we’ve got now I could actually send it to the cop at that end, she looked at it, showed the wife, that’s him […] it may have been a very different outcome but the timing was just fantastic and you’re like, does it pay for itself? Hell, yes. If you ask that family, yes, absolutely.’ (CCTV Operator 1, urban area)

By explaining how he had upgraded the camera resolution in the operation centre he works in, CCTV Operator 1 highlighted how public space CCTV can make a difference in people’s lives. While investment is costly, those working with CCTV every day demonstrate how investments can be worthwhile, making CCTV more effective and valuable.

5.3.2 Vision, direction and standards

Ad hoc and patchy governance arrangements for public space CCTV can make it difficult to gauge where CCTV is headed in the future. Local Government Employee 9 suggested that public space CCTV lacks central vision, noting that the most recent unifying strategy is over a decade old.

‘So [CCTV’s] really, really valuable. But to me it’s a bit of Cinderella service, you know, nationally we’re confused about where it should sit, who’s responsible for it and nobody seems to have a clear vision as to where it’s going to go in the future […]’ (Local Government Employee 9, urban area)

Participants such as Local Government Employee 9 above highlighted that this lack of vision is inextricably linked with the confusion over governance arrangements and other areas of CCTV responsibility. Local Government Employee 7, working in CCTV operations in a different urban area, echoed this sentiment but also highlighted the importance of community input in creating future standards.

‘[CCTV] needs governance. Technology, again as we’ve touched on, is changing, evolving, it’s how you manage all that and be able to then sort of reap the benefits of it as well. But communities have to be at the heart of this, you know. They have to be. Otherwise, you know, you’ve got to build those relationships and trust in terms of what you’re doing. And I think that’s where, you know, benchmarking, best practice, has to, you know, come in, strategy, you know. […] How do you standardise all this? How do you capture it all and say, right, we all, this is what we should all be doing?’ (Local Government Employee 7, urban area)

This local government employee makes the point that having updated benchmarks for best practice will help to improve the use of public space CCTV and its effectiveness. Accordingly, community perspectives could be integrated into best practice to maintain public reassurance and trust in the future.

As public space CCTV equipment, resolution, and staffing evolves and improves, this study has found that participants want updated resources on best practice and the overall vision for CCTV. This is particularly relevant as public space CCTV becomes more multi-purpose and evolves with changing communities.

5.4 Perceptions of safety

5.4.1 Feeling safer because of CCTV presence

Many interview participants, civilian and police alike, expressed the view that public space CCTV made them feel safer when using public spaces in their daily lives and while at work. Participants such as Local Government Employee 2, highlighted that the placement of public space CCTV often impacted where she went and how she felt about her safety.

‘In terms of going…you know, the likes of the safety, for me, that’s a big thing for me is safety with the cameras […] when you know that there’s cameras round about, you know, I think it was you…it was [another group interview participant] that said you're looking over your back, you just don’t know who’s lurking about. And that’s…the camera gives just that wee bit of a security. Security blanket, I suppose.’ (Local Government Employee 2, town area)

The relationship between public space CCTV and women’s safety was an important theme across many interviews with residents. The notion that a CCTV operator may be looking out for you was a strong, positive sentiment from some of these participants. For example, Resident 2, who lives in a housing association property networked into the local public space CCTV system, associated the safety and security she gets from public space CCTV with her sense of home.

‘I'm on my own and what I feel about here is it’s secure because there’s a door entry system and it’s really secure.’ (Resident 2, town area)

In Resident 2’s housing development, she and the other residents were able to stream public space CCTV footage from the building’s entry system onto their television screens, to see who was at their doors. Many residents enjoyed this affordance, and though it appears to be an unusual use of public space CCTV as set out in the study’s original conceptualisation of it, it demonstrates how public space CCTV in Scotland involves some definitional irregularities spatially and in its purpose.

Police officers and Superintendents similarly highlighted that public space CCTV and being watched by CCTV operators made them feel safer at work, particularly in risky situations. Police Supt. 2 recollects below an incident that occurred when he was an officer in a town area:

‘[…] So, a couple of things from me, there was officer safety implications in terms of me being followed by the cameras to see where I was going because I was on my own chasing an individual who could have been armed with a weapon. They weren’t but could have been. The CCTV also assisted in the recovery of evidence, vis-à-vis the drugs that were discarded. A colleague was also protected as he pursued his male. Also, when he arrested his male and the cameras are on you, it reduces the opportunity for people to make complaints about any use of violence, use of force. Then bringing them back, you’re holding onto them at all times, you’re shown to be professional and that plays out in court as well when the public see that as a jury, if you like, because that did go to jury trial, that one.’ (Police Supt. 2, town area)

The presence of public space CCTV can provide a sense of safety and a feeling of being ‘looked out for’. This seems to be particularly the case for women and for people generally when in public spaces alone. Furthermore, public space CCTV coverage can provide police officers with a sense of safety, accountability, corroboration, and assistance.

5.4.2 Perceptions towards the absence of public space CCTV

While the presence of public space CCTV in Scotland made many participants feel safer, the absence of CCTV cameras made some participants feel uneasy. According to Local Government Employee 9, who works in an urban area, this is indicative of a cultural appetite for CCTV in the UK more generally:

‘I think the British public expect to see CCTV in their town centres and city centres […] they know there’s cameras watching them. But so many incidents now that are taking place in recent years are detracting from people’s feeling of safety. And in every one of those instances the first recourse is to CCTV. So people actually don’t want to be where there’s no CCTV ‘cause they feel unsafe.’ (Local Government Employee 9, urban area)

The absence or removal of public space CCTV equipment was arguably more noticeable for participants than its installation. Resident 1, living in a town area, explained how the damaging and removal of a camera at a nearby bus stop meant that she felt less safe in this space; she also believed its removal had contributed to an increase in fly tipping.

‘Can I say…we had CCTV up at the bus stop for a while, but it stopped. I think people were climbing up and breaking it. And then they put something up to stop them climbing. But now it’s not used. And it felt quite safe there because at night time, it’s quite a quiet place and standing the bus stop felt safer when the camera was there. […] There’s a lot of fly tipping as well and that would stop all that if we had more cameras.’ (Resident 1, town area)

Many of those participants who either felt neutral about the presence of public space CCTV or did not notice it in their daily lives, also expressed the view that more cameras would be welcome in their local communities.

5.5 Benefits, limitations and risks

5.5.1 Benefits

One significant benefit of public space CCTV arrangements noted by police and CCTV operator participants in interviews was that local police maintained strong relationships in the community with local businesses and community groups in order to share information and CCTV footage. Police Officer 2, a city centre officer in an urban area, was proud of the relationships he maintained with the community this way.

‘I think that’s something we’ve worked at in the city centre. We go around and make these connections with people and we just always go in on our patrols and just see how everyone is and build up those relationships with businesses.’ (Police Officer 2, urban area)

In a rural area on the other side of the country, Police Officer 3 and CCTV Operator 3, working together, similarly expressed that cooperation with local businesses benefitted all parties:

‘I think the money that goes into shoplifting, the economy that loses with the amount of shoplifting, if you’re getting £1,000’s worth of perfume for somebody, you know, [CCTV] cuts out a lot of the losses for…’ (CCTV Operator 3, rural area)

‘[Businesses] pay for the radios and the radios cost about £400, £500 a year but I can recover that in one shoplifting. So that’s their radio paid for by the police recovering their shoplifted goods which wouldn’t happen if we didn’t have the CCTV operator going, he’s gone here, she’s gone there et cetera.’ (Police Officer 3, rural area)

As CCTV Operator 3 and Police Officer 3’s accounts highlight, ShopSafe links are an investment for local businesses, but the ability for them to potentially recover stolen product may be worth the ShopSafe investment.

Another benefit highlighted by several local government employees was multi-agency cooperation in operation centres, leading to a more joined-up approach to community safety. As Local Government Employee 7, working in CCTV operations in an urban area, stated:

‘[…] One of the biggest positives of doing this is being able to bring everybody together and having them all in one location. […] Communication is key to everything in terms of how these services are run and managed and how we respond to, you know, emergencies or, even your day to day. If you can fix those challenges and overcome some of the red tape or having to pick up a phone to someone you’re not sure, that solves half the problem, so that was a big part of this thinking was, how do we bring them all together, get them in the same room?’ (Local Government Employee 7, urban area)

This account highlights the potential benefits of having an integrated operation centre, where different agencies can better communicate with one another.

Local Government Employee 9, working in a different urban area, similarly expressed that while various agencies may have their own objectives, looking at the same footage and being in the same room can lead to better communication and more effective use of public space CCTV.

‘There’s some merit in having everybody viewing the same screens. They may be looking at them for different reasons, but there’s a close cooperation between those different people so you can, you know, look at the same screens and pick out what you need from it for your own purposes.’ (Local Government Employee 9, urban area)

When used more effectively, public space CCTV can also help to allocate resources during an incident or emergency, as CCTV operators can direct what kind of emergency response may be needed. As Local Government Employee 10, who works in CCTV operations in a town area, stated:

‘If there is an incident happening, we have got the ability to share those images with the control room, who you would be on the phone to or anybody would be on the phone. And it actually helps them resource as well ‘cause they make the decision to say, that needs X amount of officers or vans there et cetera and things like that. […] So maybe sometimes as well when the police are actually dealing with something that involves maybe a group of ten people, [CCTV Operator 2]’s watching the people who the police aren't dealing with either and reporting back directly. So [CCTV Operator 2] can actually phone the badge number of the officer and vice versa, they can phone direct as well, and dialogue can be made.’ (Local Government Employee 10, town area)

As these accounts show, rather than functioning as a passive service, public space CCTV, when used in proactive ways, can be beneficial to other emergency and response services. Cooperation and collaboration between different community safety actors can provide a more holistic, whole systems approach towards community safety issues.

5.5.2 Limitations and risks

A significant limitation to the use and development of public space CCTV in Scotland is scarce funding and investment. While digitalisation can potentially improve the use and sharing of CCTV footage, this requires internet capability and investment from various stakeholders to put the necessary infrastructure in place. As Local Government Employee 7 stated, ‘there has to be a willingness and it’s, of course it’s investment. Yes, it’s technology, but it’s also a culture change.’

This study found that there are public space CCTV funding and investment disparities across different areas of Scotland. Furthermore, as certain areas fall behind in upgrading their systems, this can impact the usefulness of public space CCTV. Police Supt. 2 remarked that most mobile phone cameras are better quality than public space CCTV:

‘I think, for me, CCTV, because it’s not keeping pace, is falling behind in terms of quality and usefulness when you see the quality of what people are providing both from Ring doorbell footage, by way of example, and by mobile phones, the cameras on mobile phones which are probably better quality cameras now than what CCTV […]’ (Police Supt. 2, town area)

These limitations, which are related to funding and investments, could hinder the future potential for public space CCTV as commercial and private CCTV systems potentially outpace public ones.

5.6 Maintaining localism

Across the range of interview participants (n=26) involved in or impacted by public space CCTV in their work and personal lives, there was a contradictory tension between the desire for system integration and centralisation and the desire for maintaining public space CCTV systems as locally as possible. This finding speaks to perceptions of effectiveness and efficiency now and in the future.

Some participants, particularly those working in local government and senior police, highlighted the benefits of diversifying and integrating the various purposes and uses of public space CCTV. This is exemplified in the account of the CCTV operator below:

‘So, a lot of the cameras were put in in response to the crime and the landscape of what was going on in [City 1], you know, 20, 30 years ago. […] The systems were scattered in lots of different locations, managed by the police. But as [City 1] has evolved as a city, as technology has evolved, the whole CCTV network was brought together in the, I think the late 1990s and I think immediately people could see the benefits of having a joined-up CCTV estate, one location, that would then provide sort of monitoring and coverage city wide.’ (Local Government Employee 7, urban area)

While the participant above argues this integration is relevant to city-wide developments, the area he works in also absorbs footage from other areas of Scotland that do not currently have capacity for an operations centre. Local Government Employee 9, working in a different urban area, also expressed desire for a centralised, integrated CCTV service.

‘An integrated operation centre is really where CCTV, for me, needs to sit in the future. And that’s just where we’re on a very small scale, ’cause we have a very small number of cameras.’ (Local Government Employee 9, urban area)

As this chapter has demonstrated, public space CCTV is evidently moving beyond the traditional remits of community safety to respond to a range of issues including mental health and welfare, roads, environment, housing, other emergency response agencies. This may potentially involve the centralisation of resources and digitalisation of footage.

However, a different group of participants, noticeably consisting of local police and CCTV operators, felt that public space CCTV needed to be a local service with local knowledge and expertise at the heart of it. Based in a rural area, CCTV Operator 3 attributed the quality of her work to her deep understanding of the place and people she lives amongst:

‘And being local as well, you know who’s not local, if that makes sense. We’ve had somebody who stole a car from up north […] We tracked him and got him down here. They’d been looking for him for two or three days. So just because I was like, oh, I don’t know him, you know like, sort of, I’m not saying I know everybody but you recognise somebody who’s not local.’ (CCTV Operator 3, rural area)

CCTV Operator 4, formerly based in an urban area, also expressed the importance of local relationship-building with residents and the familiarisation between local CCTV operators and those under surveillance.

‘For a lot of those people, especially the elderly, we did alarm calls from the concierge station or welfare checks as well. There was somebody just checking in that they were there. […] Somebody knew they existed and, for a lot of people who were alone and lived sheltered lives, the concierge might have been the only person that actually recognised that they weren’t there for a couple of days or any of that sort of stuff. […] I think there was something about a person physically monitoring, in real time, what was going on in that space and who could react in that space.’ (CCTV Operator 4, urban area)

This group of participants highlighted that the future of public space CCTV in Scotland should not strip away the local dynamics of each community, nor outsource the work of CCTV monitoring outside the community. Between those who envision an integrated and centralised system, and those who prefer a more local community-based vision, it is important to find a way of delivering public space CCTV in the future that is effective, efficient, and benefits local communities.

5.7 Conclusion

This chapter has detailed the research findings from qualitative interviews with 26 participants representing a diverse range of stakeholders working with or impacted by public space CCTV in their local communities, including: residents/community groups, CCTV operators, community safety partnership staff, police officers, and local government employees.

The data from these interviews provide a situated, place-based understanding of how communities across Scotland perceive the use and value of public space CCTV in their local areas. The chapter has explored perceptions towards the relationship between public space CCTV and crime prevention, detection and prosecution, governance arrangements and funding, perceptions towards safety, the benefits, limitations, and risks of public space CCTV, and the importance of local contexts.

While public space CCTV in Scotland continues to play a role in crime prevention and detection, findings indicate that perceptions towards its use and value have widened, as have the remits of police officers and local government employees working in community safety. Community safety and security in public spaces includes responding not only to criminal behaviour, but also to mental health emergencies, missing and vulnerable persons cases, environmental issues, and traffic issues.

Participants working for the police and local government expressed that there are disparities around governance and funding across different areas of Scotland, leading to ‘patchy’ and ad hoc arrangements that could benefit from updated, robust standards across the country. Many town and city centre police officers and local residents in communities highlighted that there should also be a focus on the local, place-based contexts of public space CCTV where it is actually delivered. Developments in the field of public space CCTV regulation and operation could benefit from addressing both the centralisation and localisation of public space CCTV in Scotland to enhance its strengths and mitigate its limitations.



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