Following the botched attacks on London transit July 21, closed-circuit television images—captured at Underground stations around London and on a city bus—provided evidence leading to the arrest of the four alleged perpetrators. Similarly, CCTV footage helped police identify the suicide bombers responsible for the four deadly attacks two weeks earlier on July 7.
In the eyes of the British public, CCTV has become the police’s first port of call and a high-tech crime-fighting tool. In London, the average person can expect to be caught on surveillance video hundreds of times daily, and Britons are accustomed to seeing CCTV footage of suspects and victims in high-profile crimes.
Yet police receive no special training in analyzing CCTV footage, nor any high-tech tools, says Brian Adamson, a technical support officer with the Haringey Borough police, part of London’s Metropolitan Police. Officers learn on the job.
While the force is well-practiced at downloading digital imagery from official cameras, the process relies on the cooperation of the transit authorities and organizations that own the cameras involved, Adamson says. Privately owned CCTV cameras pose another challenge. When a crime takes place, Adamson adds, officers have to walk the route involved, identifying cameras and hoping to sequester evidence.
British authorities have sought to reassure the public that no effort will be spared to prevent further atrocities. For that promise to become a reality, however, London needs to move more from after-the-event analysis to before-the-event anticipation, says Neil Fisher, director of security solutions at British defense contractor QinetiQ. The technology exists. Real-time video analysis is in use at New Jersey Transit’s Secaucus Junction station. Is technology in Britain’s budget? Londoners await.