Seizing the CCTV opportunity in public services
Combining the power of CCTV and emerging technologies to realise the future vision of preventative policing.
Singapore has made progress in building an integrated national sensor network in line with its Smart Nation agenda, including a nationwide push for more close-circuit television (CCTV) cameras in public places. These devices are increasingly a common feature in the daily lives of citizens in many countries. For public safety agencies, CCTV presents a useful way to collect, monitor and analyse information that can help to keep the public safe, and prevent and detect crime.
But the reality is that their usage to date has only scratched the surface of the potential benefit they could deliver.
Today, rapid technological advances—both in cameras themselves and wider digital capabilities—are opening up new ways for CCTV and digital surveillance to benefit public safety.
CCTV Today: What’s blurring the picture?
To harness the potential of CCTV to help create this future, public safety agencies first need to overcome three key issues with today’s CCTV systems.
Most public safety CCTV operations remain focused on reactive processes. The first is that most public safety CCTV operations remain focused on reactive processes. CCTV cameras now boast many advanced features, and the video footage they capture is usually recorded and archived—but is only subjected to analysis if warranted by reports of an incident, after the event. There’s a stark contrast with the social media sentiment monitoring conducted by many organisations—both public and private sector—which is increasingly comprehensive, AI-enabled, detailed and real-time. This means the CCTV device remains largely a "black box," producing data that’s only pulled out from the archive for review after the event if something has happened.
Manual interventions still tend to dominate CCTV operations.
The second—related—issue is that manual interventions still tend to dominate CCTV operations. A lack of automation means that most real-time monitoring and supervision of CCTV content is still carried out by teams of humans sitting in control rooms, watching content and monitoring other sources such as sound sensors, and then reporting back on what they’re seeing and hearing to determine what the public safety response should be.
People are also used to conduct post-incident analysis, trawling through many hours of footage and sound recordings from different cameras and sensors to establish what happened.
This approach is slow and resource intensive, with the result that the time-lag between an incident taking place and a human accessing and reviewing the footage can be hours, but more likely days or weeks. This means the current approach is barely feasible for an agency covering a major city—and will become less so in the future, as more video sources come online from the likes of transport networks, shopping centres and citizens’ own video recordings.
Ability to share data across functions or other organisations is very limited
The third challenge for today’s public safety CCTV systems is that their ability to share data across functions or other organisations is very limited.
The ability to transfer video evidence seamlessly between different public safety agencies and other participants in the ecosystem delivers many benefits.
These include dramatic time saving and better intelligence from bringing disparate footage together. But historically CCTV information has been stored in discrete network video drives or on physical tapes or CDs, meaning sharing it is difficult, slow and highly labor-intensive. Taking a large city as an example, this issue is underlined by the sheer range of CCTV systems likely to be operating at once—owned and run not just by police, but also by local authorities and transport operators on the public service side, as well as by citizens, third party operators and facilities management companies on the private sector side.
All of these systems can produce data that could benefit public safety if shared in a controlled and permissioned way.
A lack of automation means that most real-time monitoring and supervision of CCTV content is still carried out by teams of humans sitting in control rooms, watching content and monitoring other sources such as sound sensors, and then reporting back on what they’re seeing and hearing to determine what the public safety response should be.
Citizens’ Rising ExpectationsIt’s vital that the police retain the public trust and confidence that enables them to work effectively with the communities they serve, something that greater use of CCTV could threaten if the public regards it as excessive. At the same time citizens’ expectations of the public safety benefits that can be achieved through CCTV are rising rapidly, driven by Hollywood movies and their own experience of using ever more advanced home surveillance and security systems based on smartphones.
But changing attitudes to CCTV are also highlighting current blind spots around capabilities and ethics related to:
- The ability to differentiate between friend and potential foe
- The trust relationship between citizens and their government
- Susceptibility to manipulation or "adversarial techniques"