News Archive

Walk On The Tameside

by msecadm4921

Community safety including patrollers and CCTV using biometrics at a Manchester council.

The operator uses a joystick to operate a camera in the control room of Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council. The facial recognition package is working through the camera covering a shopping street in the Manchester town of Ashton under Lyne. When a shopper’s face comes into view, the software ‘reads’ the face and checks it against the database of known offenders. If there is a suspected match, the face pops up on the right of the screen. Here is a biometric system in use in UK public space CCTV.
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Back in the community safety unit, in another part of the council offices, explains Mike Rhodes, the Tameside officer in charge of CCTV: ‘A couple of years ago part of our crime and disorder strategy was to look at the desirability of facial recognition. We went to see a demonstration at Manchester Airport of what was then the most up to date system of facial recognition, though it was not suitable for a town centre environment.’ What they saw demo’ed was more suited for a enclosed airport where you can channel passengers, on an escalator, for example. In a town centre, you do not have that luxury. You need a system that can take in more than one face on the screen at a time. Tameside returned to the subject with Link Integrated Systems of Sutton in Ashfield near Nottingham, who had audited the CCTV set-up as consultants, and won a tender for refurbishment work. On looking at what facial recognition systems were on the market, Link chose Securicor Information Systems. Mike Rhodes adds that the system is very much in its infancy; operators are becoming more hands-on, more confident about using it. It’s not flawless, and it does come up with mismatches, Mike admits. It works best in the shopping street, an area with high footfall, rather than (say) at the bus station, where the Philips dome camera has to do more zooming in on faces. The package can be linked to any one of Tameside’s 42 colour cameras, a system that is looking to expand in numbers and area. Under the last round of Home Office grants announced last year, Tameside was successful in four of its five bids; Old Cross Street and Union Street car parks in Ashton, two bids totalling £51,000, Droylesden town centre (£44,000), and Denton town centre (£50,000). In the last financial year, Mike puts Tameside CCTV spending in the region of £400,000. The surveillance has reached a stage where known offenders are picked up on camera in one Tameside town, catching a bus, getting off at Ashton bus station, and being spotted there, so that retailers and others on the radio link are alerted. Tameside’s launch of their facial recognition installation brought wide local media coverage, in the press, radio and television. In an example of how CCTV managers would be wise to be alive to the usefulness of not hiding their lights under a bushel, Tameside report that the publicity led to a more or less instant disappearance of some known offenders.
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There’s more to community safety than technology, as John Johnson, head of community safety, explains. CCTV links to the borough’s patrol service, the Safe Child initiative, and the retail radio-link system. TelGuard-ATG retractable bollards, raised to enforce the town centre pedestrianisation zone, and lowered for delivery and other allowed vehicles, are covered by CCTV; operators in the Council House activate the bollards remotely. The borough has some mobile CCTV equipment, for use by police or the borough patrollers, for example to record anti-social behaviour as evidence. The 40-strong patrol service, with two managers, John Johnson says, acts as the eyes and ears of the local authority and the police; to deter crime, and the fear of crime, as a uniformed presence on the streets, ‘that people repeatedly ask for’. They work with the market managers to enforce market regulations. They gather intelligence from neighbourhood watch and residents’ groups on youth nuisances. They report on fly-tipping, child employment, damage to street furniture, and other environmental issues, to the right department; ‘and they have a developing role in relation to education, around positive citizenship, certainly among young people’. That involves school liaison work. As for uniforms, Tameside saw it had a choice between a ‘meet and greet’ style and a ‘reassuring presence’. The borough went for the latter – hence a blue shirt, tie, and peaked cap, with the aim of giving official credibility to the patrollers. Their duties are ever-increasing: on the table are litter-free zones, and issuing of fixed penalty tickets for litter. The patrollers already issue seven-day notices for abandoned cars. They are taking more of a role in public parks, to make them safe places. Until recently the patrollers did not have set beats, but Tameside is in the process of appointing eight area co-ordinators to cover each of the eight district assembly areas of the borough, each with a team of four patrollers. The background of these patrollers’ ‘All walks of life,’ John Johnson says. ‘Police, security, teaching. That’s a good thing.’ A former head teacher is driving the school liaison work, for instance. Unlike some other council or housing association patrol-warden schemes, Tameside’s is not a New Deal one explicitly bringing unemployed people into the job market. That said, some Tameside patrollers have gone on to become police officers.
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All that said, the technology plays its part. The borough has put in more lighting in crime hot-spots, alleygating to block passages for burglars, and ‘target-hardening’ of properties of repeat victims of burglaries. There are plans to install automatic number plate recognition; and a microwave link to one of Greater Manchester Police’s area operations rooms, in Ashton. Thus a Council House control room operator would be able to patch images to the police radio operators to help them decide how to prioritise and respond to calls. The control room – contract staff, from Buxton-based Peak Close Protection – monitor several schools out of hours, responding to alarm activations from (for example) Redwall passive infra-red detectors from Security Enclosures by viewing CCTV footage and acting accordingly. Schools pay for the maintenance of the equipment, can do their own monitoring on site, and record on site, whether digital (typically a Sprite from Dedicated Micros) or videotape. As the CCTV system has grown, so has a multiplicity of transmission methods: the method of transmission from Hyde used to be microwave, and the cameras still transmit by microwave to the hub in Hyde to be sent by BT fibre optic cable to Ashton. Some cameras transmit images over twisted pair; most by fibre optic.
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Last word
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As in many other parts of the UK, the anti-crime partnerships between local authorities, retailers, the police and others, as codified in the Crime and Disorder Act, have developed – everything from retail exclusion orders to exchange of real-time information to enforce those orders. In Tameside, the elected councillors have put their money where their community safety mouth is.

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