Executive Editor Mark Rowe’s editorial from the September 2002 print edition of Professional Security.
The central problem of our times, if you ask me, is the gap between the need for prompt accurate information, so that we can make informed decisions, and the obstacles in the way – such as bureaucracy, and the complicated nature of modern life. In my opinion, that is a thread linking many subjects in these pages each month, and problems that keep landing in the security manager’s ‘in’ tray. The Security Industry Authority for example will stand or fall depending on whether it can deliver licences for security officers, in good time, that employers can rely on. That depends on the Criminal Record Bureau doing the business better than security firms’ present pre-employment checks (page 31). You cannot prevent or detect fraud unless you know what is going on in your organisation. That does involve people at the very top taking fraud seriously and spending money (see the news reports on page 16 and 22, and Jim Gannon’s comments on page 47). Ditto for theft from lorries and the supply chain, where there are signs of progress ahead of a Road Haulage Association seminar in mid-September (page 32). But we not only need the experience and skills to draw working conclusions from information – the info has to be meaningful, whole. Whenever I read about any research based on police statistics, I get depressed, because (and we do know this) police recording of crime is so inadequate. It’s not all their fault – very roughly, half of all crime is not reported to police. So when we come to the latest most authoritative review of research into public space CCTV, how can we take it seriously when it’s based, even partly, on police stats’ And here’s a pearl from the end of the article (page 112-3): CCTV in a car park cuts crime by about 28 per cent compared with an area without CCTV. No word on whether the car park is a multi-storey or not, how many entrance points there are, not a word on signage, or how well you look after your VCR recordings, or how often the police take tapes for prosecutions. No, the criminologists have spoken, ‘about 28 per cent’ it is. Then when the researchers go on to conclude that CCTV in general has a slight effect on crime – certainly slight compared to lighting – it’s galling that what strikes me as bad and incomplete social science could affect the politicians holding the purse strings. CCTV operators, police, consultants, all can tell you where and how CCTV works, and when it doesn’t. They praise it as one tool in the tool-kit (page 114). But to the academics, what the end users say is merely ‘anecdotal evidence’ (what a magnificent put-down phrase that is!). I do want to exempt Prof Martin Gill of the Scarman Centre, University of Leicester, from my criticism. His admirable book Commercial Robbery was so interesting precisely because he asked robbers about security measures. A similar book just out is as thought-provoking (page 95). I am heartened that Scarman is doing what looks more and more like the Home Office’s crunch research into public space CCTV. Fair enough, public CCTV has to prove its worth, but it’s a shame that managers have to devote so much time to bidding for a few years’ worth of grants (page 86) and spy out what pots of money are on offer. Many bids fail, and the bidders have to go through the same hoops the next year. Maybe MPs should try it – see how they like it!