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SIO Corner: Closed Circuit Television (CCTV)

This week we look at the role CCTV can play when putting together a case

In this series, we preview sections of Blackstone's third edition of the Senior Investigating Officers' Handbook. This book provides invaluable insight about the essential skills and responsibilities that a senior investigating officer needs to manage serious crime investigations, from the initial response through to crime scene examination and investigative strategies. PoliceOracle.com readers can enjoy a 20 per cent discount on the book with our special offer code at the end of this article.

Closed Circuit Television (CCTV)

Use of CCTV images can greatly improve media appeals and increase the chance of attracting public attention if there are good images to release. The tactic can be used to encourage potential witnesses to come forward and help the enquiry by identifying people, and/or to prompt more general assistance. This is an area of policing that is still evolving, with the radical changes taking place enabling CCTV to be used together with facial recognition software and techniques. The use of CCTV in investigations is now routinely taken as seriously as other forensic techniques such as DNA and fingerprinting.

As well as recording some element of a criminal offence, people may pass in front of cameras on the way to/from committing crimes, or when making phone calls reporting incidents. Some footage may also show that alleged serious incidents did not take place at all, or may disprove alibis. Passive data providers such as CCTV and ANPR can also be used for tracking movements and routes taken by victims and suspects, and in some cases for identifying people who may be following or travelling with them.

A number of forces now have dedicated units for finding and/or recovering CCTV. These are specialists who have the best training and equipment.

CCTV strategies

When setting a CCTV strategy an SIO should consider the following:

Checklist—CCTV strategy considerations

The contingency time period needs to be wide enough to cover the periods known as the ‘relevant time’ that has been set for the investigation, recognising that if the parameters are too wide they will slow down the recovery and viewing processes. However, intelligence may suggest that in some cases offenders, victims and witnesses may have been at the scene beforehand.

The method of physically removing recording units or analogue tapes needs clarification to ensure the best evidential product is obtained. Instructions on when and whether to shut down the recording system (if still in use), how to check the position of cameras, time and date accuracy will need to be clarified, and this is where expert advice and experience may be needed. Some forces have specialist or dedicated units to perform this function, provided they are available when required at short notice or out of hours and on public holidays.

Staff selected to perform viewing duties should be conversant with the circumstances of the case (especially if brought in specially for the viewing duties) and what they are expected to search for. Some staff have been found to have rare skills for recognising and identifying the faces of known criminals (aka ‘super recognisers’) from CCTV images, which might be another consideration the SIO might wish to think about when selecting staff to perform viewing duties. The accurate completion of viewing logs (often on a dedicated form) is also an important element of the role while viewing takes place.

About the authors

Former Detective Superintendent Tony Cook was a career detective and senior investigating officer with Greater Manchester Police until he retired in 2009. He is currently a PIP Level 3 and 4 Regional SIO Advisor with the National Crime Agency.

Andy Tattersall, formerly Detective Superintendent in Greater Manchester Police on the Force Major Incident Team, retired in 2007 after 33 years' service and became the first ever Support Staff SIO in charge of a new Homicide Support Unit.

Blackstone's Senior Investigating Officers' Handbook is designed specifically to meet the quick-reference needs of any officer conducting a serious investigation. The only portable step-by-step guide to the processes and actions involved in the role of a Senior Investigating Officer (SIO), it explains all the relevant procedures and instructions integral to the position in a clear and accessible style.

Buy directly from the Oxford University Press website and enter the discount code ALPOLORH14 at the checkout to receive an exclusive 20% discount on the Senior Investigating Officers' Handbook.

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