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Where does CCTV sit within London counter-terrorism?

Lord Toby Harris issued his second review of London counter-terrorism preparations last month (March 2022). At 257 pages and 294 recommendations, it is a thumping read, but well worth delving into if you are interested in how CCTV sits within the counter-terrorism ecosystem within London.

It’s also worth noting, as Lord Harris says, that the report also contains valuable insights and recommendations for authorities around the country, so well worth a read even if you are not part of a London borough.

Lord Harris is chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Policing and sits on the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy. He published a previous review of London counter-terrorism in October 2016.

He says his overall conclusion in both reviews is that efforts to combat terrorism and preparations for responding to terrorist events has been steadily improving, but there is still room for improvement.

To understand the place of CCTV within the capital, it is important also to understand what is happening with the police. Fundamentally he says that the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) has been deskilled due to long term budget cutting.

The loss of 20,000 officers nationally has meant a loss of expertise, especially among more experienced senior ranks, and this has been felt within the MPS. Although the numbers are being built back up again, and the numbers are approaching historic highs of 2008-2010, London’s population has also been growing, so on a per capita basis, the numbers are still down.

Replacements are primarily coming into the lower ranks, and Lord Harris says it will take time to reestablish expertise at higher levels, especially among the detective grades.

Meanwhile, budget cuts have also degraded the ability of local government to provide essential community services that have an impact on radicalisation, areas such as youth services, mental health and the voluntary and community sectors. This has degraded the Prevent strategy, he says.

He concludes that security and preparedness must be built into the fabric of London to ensure that counter-terrorism is truly a city-wide endeavour.

CCTV and counter-terrorism

So what does he have to say about CCTV?

He says CCTV can be a deterrent if properly deployed and advertised. It is also useful for detecting suspicious behaviour and for post-incident investigations, he says. He is optimistic about the use of artificial intelligence to automate CCTV monitoring, analyse behaviour and detect faces.

He draws lessons from the Manchester Arena enquiry, including

  • The need for comprehensive CCTV coverage and elimination of blindspots

  • Training of security staff in terrorism awareness and procedures and recognition of suspicious behaviour and hostile reconnaissance

  • Protection of London’s ‘grey spaces’

He also highlights the need to protect local authority funding for CCTV, noting that many boroughs are cutting funds at a time when the threat from terrorism is rising.

He says that CCTV across London and on the transport networks is inconsistent, with a range of technologies and capabilities and patchy coverage in many areas.

Local authorities should take a more robust approach to licensing and planning, to ensure that all aspects of counter-terrorism are taken into account. This includes ensuring venue staff have adequate training and certification, and plans should not be approved unless this can be proved.

He notes that London has hundreds of quasi-public spaces including 35 major sporting venues. Counter-terrorism standards and awareness are highly variable, and the relationship between these venues and counter-terrorism security advisers (CTSAs) and local authorities is not always good.

He draws particular attention to the role of CTSAs, noting that there are just 18 for the whole of London, and cooperation by business is voluntary. The new Protect Duty will likely result in increased demand for CTSA time, and he urges the government to recruit and train new CTSAs in time to meet demand.

CCTV coverage on the London Overground network is generally good, but there are still blindspots in areas which he recommends covering where possible. CCTV coverage in buses is quite varied, with a range of technologies and capabilities depending on the operating company. He recommends further standardisation and ensuring that video can be viewed in real time at a TfL control centre.

Building on this theme of ‘a city-wide endeavour’, Lord Harris calls for privately-owned cameras in publicly-accessible locations to feed images into public networks where they can be viewed by local authority CCTV operators and the police. He also calls for London’s ULEZ cameras to be integrated into local networks and establish data-sharing agreements as is currently the case between the MPS and TfL to allow real-time access to certain cameras.

And finally, he says there should be more cooperation between public networks, with operators trained to use neighbouring systems.

For those who are interested, there are also a couple of sections in his report about automated facial recognition (AFR) and drones and counter-drone technology. He believes:

  • Mass image processing with AFR should be the norm

  • AFR can be a crime deterrent and free up resources for other crime prevention work

  • AFR data can be integrated with other data sources for greater impact

  • Use of AFR passes the GDPR test due to substantial public interest

  • There should be a high level of transparency over the use of AFR to reassure the public that it is not being abused

You can read an extract from Lord Harris’s review on our website: And the full report can be downloaded from the Mayor of London website: London Prepared: A City-Wide Endeavour


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