Zooming in on the police force

Now that the debate has been revived about the degree of efficiency achieved by the police force, the rising rate of crime in the cities and provinces and people’s increasing sense of insecurity, I remember another debate about security cameras on city streets. «In Britain, they managed very well with street cameras. If they hadn’t taken such steps, they would never have found those responsible for the terrorist attack on the London Underground,» said those in favor of installing similar cameras in Athens. «The idea is aimed at putting an end to privacy and is therefore dangerous,» countered the opponents of the plan. Yesterday, an official at the relevant British police department put things into perspective for us. He said that the use of closed-circuit cameras throughout Britain to counter crime has been an «utter fiasco» and has not, in fact, managed to cut the crime rate. In a public confession at the Security Document World Conference in London, Detective Chief Inspector Mike Neville, an official working with image identification at Scotland Yard, admitted that billions of pounds had been spent on equipment, but «no thought has gone into how the police are going to use the images and how they will be used in court.» «It has been an utter fiasco,» he said. He added that 4.2 million cameras had been installed throughout the country, about one for every 14 people, with the capability of photographing a single person up to 300 times a day without his or her knowledge. However, only 3 percent of street robberies in London had been solved with the help of images from these cameras. Even worse, Neville admitted that some officers didn’t want to look through the images because it was too much work. Meanwhile, the cameras have not even acted as a deterrent, as most criminals assume they are not working. The British official’s honesty is somewhat disarming by Greek standards, where such outspokenness by a public official is an unknown phenomenon. It is hard to imagine what would happen here if a police chief called in the media to admit some failure of the same nature. In Greece, it would have been hugely disconcerting for politicians, who would have missed the opportunity to apportion blame, as well as for journalists, for whom the official’s plain speaking would have been so astounding as to silence all regular commentators on evening news discussion programs.