Detective Chief Inspector Lorraine Parker of Cambridgeshire Police announced a new policy of not reviewing CCTV following cycle thefts at a meeting of Cambridge’s Community Safety Partnership on Tuesday the 10th of February 2015.
DCI Parker also reported that the seasonal spike in cycle thefts in October had been at its highest ever level in 2014 and said it was disappointing that this had occurred despite the police putting hundreds of hours of work into giving advice to new students aimed at reducing bike thefts. She said:
In relation to cycle theft Community Safety Officer “Kate” has delivered over a hundred engagements, in fact nearly one hundred and fifty engagements, with local educational establishments [and?] through social media in terms of simple measures to prevent victimisation. That’s a piece of work we particularly want to carry forward with Anglia Ruskin and CRC because we think you know there is some more imaginative work we can do there because there’s a lot of time being spent to see cycle crime peak more than it ever has done in October so we have to look at what works. A hundred and fifty visits for cycle crime for one person to have your cycle crime peak probably looks on the surface like it’s not that efficient so we are exploring what we can do better.
The police also urged the Community Safety Partnership not to set the police a target of reducing the numbers of bike thefts; arguing the police would prefer to focus on something “more long term” to tackle bike thefts. No explanation of what the longer term approach which wouldn’t be expected to cut cycle thefts soon might involve was given.
The council officer chairing the meeting (Liz Bisset, Salary £91,891/year) noted that the police should probably expect some “push back”, presumably from the public, following their change in stance in relation to cycle theft.
Cambridge residents were represented at the meeting by the council’s “lead councillor” for community safety Labour’s Cllr Ann Sinnott. Cllr Sinnott made no comment in response to the police statements on cycle crime. I hope other councillors will ask questions when they are holding the police to account at Cambridge’s area committees over the coming weeks. Cllr Sinnott has been given huge responsibility in her policing related role but the mechanisms for holding an executive councillor to account do not apply to her as she has merely been designated a “lead councillor”.
I was astounded when I heard our police are to stop looking at CCTV footage of bike thefts. I listened to the police explain that reviewing CCTV was time consuming and often ultimately unproductive. I was left wondering what the problem actually is. Are CCTV images not of sufficient quality? Are the police unable to identify bike thieves even once they’ve got an image of them? Do the police, and courts, lack the computer equipment, and skills, needed to deal with video evidence?
If the city council provide clear images from the council’s CCTV of bike thieves will the police no longer consider it? What about images from the public, universities, colleges and businesses?
After hearing the announcement I was left with lots of questions.
I think the police would be failing in their basic duties if they refused to consider evidence of crimes presented to them.
It’s great that the police are reviewing the effectiveness of what they are doing. If they’ve identified some things which are not a good use of their time, that appears reasonable but we need to know what they’re doing instead.
Sometimes those, including police officers, from outside Cambridge don’t appreciate that bike theft is quite an important crime in Cambridge. There’s a high volume of bike thefts in the city. Cambridge residents’ bikes are often high value vehicles which they rely on to commute, shop and generally get around.
If the police are to retain public confidence while adopting a policy of refusing to look at footage of bike thefts and rejecting a target of cutting bike theft they need to explain what they are doing to tackle this type of crime and assure people they do take it seriously.
While I was the only observer at the meeting the announcement has been picked up by the Cambridge News. They report:
.. the detective said that extra patrols were more effective rather than having police officers trawl through hours of CCTV footage.
This appears to suggest that police officers are sitting through hours of CCTV footage waiting for a bike to be stolen rather than taking a “binary chop” approach of looking halfway through the video to see if the bike is still present, and if so then looking three quarters of the way through, and if it isn’t there then narrowing down on where the event is by looking at a point half way though the remaining period and so on.
I thought it would be insulting to suggest our detectives were so stupid as to sit through hours of CCTV waiting for a bike to be stolen in my initial response to the new policy, but now it appears they really may be plodding through hours of uneventful footage. I still wonder though if there is perhaps a technology problem as well as a problem of us needing smarter police officers.