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.

7. Conclusions and Implications

This study has provided an in-depth, mixed-methods account of the contemporary landscape of the provision, use, and impacts of public space CCTV in a number of geographic areas of Scotland. It has gathered quantitative and qualitative data from urban, town, and rural contexts across Scotland, and involved national and international comparative analyses to provide a baseline evidence of public space CCTV in Scotland. In doing so, this study has provided a broader picture of how public space CCTV policy and practice intersects with community perceptions of its role, purpose and efficacy. Conclusions, and their corresponding implications for policy and practice, are summarised below.

7.1 National hub

Despite efforts to clarify the process[11], findings from our study suggest that funding procurement for public space CCTV systems in Scotland remains ambiguous and reliant on a patchwork of funding encompassing police, local authority, private and external funding sources. This uneven development has led to divergences in technological equipment, technical capacity, and training standards and, for some of our respondents, perceptions of unfairness. The study has also identified variations in the operation, management and practice standards in different geographical regions of Scotland. These standards vary according to resource, cost, and governance arrangements.

Both police and local authority participants expressed an interest in a national hub/centre of best practice and in the standardisation and centralisation of both policy and practice similar to the BSCC in England and Wales. This national hub could benefit local authorities internally as it would offer opportunities to discuss policy issues and the standardisation of practice across councils. In areas where there are disparities in CCTV provision or training, the national hub could leverage capacity building and partnerships through shared experience and the pooling of resources, training materials, standardise procurement and maintenance, ultimately making it more affordable. This hub could also include expert oversight over cybersecurity, specifications, procurement, and training, something which is practised already in England and Wales under the safeguard of the BSCC and the ICO.

A national hub could also enable opportunities for more effective communication between stakeholders, with an emphasis on shared practice and understanding priorities and challenges. Funding information could be shared, and collaborative funding bids could be developed alongside other national and international initiatives. Concerns, challenges, and debates, such as those raised by survey respondents and interview participants in this study, could be discussed in the hub and group concerns could be addressed to Government and other stakeholders for input and resolution. The tight-knit nature of the CCTV community in Scotland would lend itself well to the smooth set-up of a hub of this kind, with adequate support.

7.2 ‘Hub and spoke’

Alongside the suggestion for a national hub for public space CCTV in Scotland, it might also be beneficial to explore a ‘spoke’ model that engages with – and learns from – diverse geographical regions of Scotland. Compared to previous research reports that detailed aging CCTV estates across Scotland (Bannister et al. 2009; SCSN, 2019), this study found that those working with public space CCTV reported well-established systems and comparable technological specifications across the country, with upgrades either completed or ongoing as funding allowed. The study found no clear relationship between the size and density of population and the quality of public space CCTV coverage. One interview participant perceived that rural areas were comparatively underserved and spoke of finding alternative ways to adapt.

However, there are still disparities around governance and funding across different areas of Scotland, leading to ‘patchy’ and ad hoc arrangements that could benefit from updated, robust standards of best practice across the country. The centralisation of resources and practices in the form of a national hub could also benefit from appreciating the local, place-based contexts of public space CCTV where it is actually being 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 and risks.

Although the governance arrangements of public space CCTV are diverse, these systems have often been adapted to local needs and future arrangements should build on these existing practice networks. A ‘hub and spoke’ network could provide a robust, dynamic strategy for Scotland’s public space CCTV network to facilitate knowledge exchange and empower local stakeholders to tailor the provision and use of public space CCTV to local needs, informed by updated guidance and standards of best practice.

7.3 Oversight

Since its inception as a local tool of crime prevention in the 1980s, public space CCTV has grown exponentially and now incorporates a wide range of local, national and international priorities ranging from environmental monitoring, to missing persons, to national security. The study found the uses of CCTV in Scotland to be dynamic and responsive to changes in demand from local authorities and police. However, with advanced technology, its actions have become more complex and difficult to regulate, resulting in instances of unmonitored "function creep." As such there is a need for clear lines of oversight and accountability that balance the needs of public space CCTV systems-operators with those of communities subject to surveillance.

The current Biometric and Surveillance Camera Commissioner in England and Wales, covering an independent commission for the retention and use of biometric material and use of surveillance cameras, currently has no specific equivalent in Scotland. While Scotland established an Office of the Scottish Biometrics Commissioner in 2020, its remit does not cover governance over CCTV. Public space CCTV systems may opt to comply with regulatory principles set out in the Scottish Biometrics Commissioner’s certification scheme as a gesture, but a specific scheme for public space CCTV could drive up standards. Current public space CCTV policy and practice in Scotland could become more responsive to the needs of operators and to the needs of local communities if better oversight mechanisms could be implemented.

Public space CCTV now takes its place among a wide range of video evidence, including both private and residential footage. In Denmark, for example, a mandatory CCTV camera registry allows for access to footage and/or livestreams of privately owned cameras enabling access to areas that are not reached by publicly owned CCTV. A system similar to the Danish POLCAM registry could provide access to cameras to aid police investigations by allowing quick access to recordings in areas where public CCTV is not implemented, e.g., residential areas or private businesses. Further research and evaluation in this area would be required.



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