Just how many CCTV cameras are there in the UK? The BSIA attempts to calculate the real numbers

UK – According to a new report from the British Security Industry Association (BSIA), entitled ‘The Picture Is Not Clear’, there are between 4 million and 5.9 million CCTV surveillance cameras in the UK.

The report, which was launched recently in London, estimated the number of cameras in over 200 sectors of the economy, ranging from schools to local shops and even sewage works.

Using a more complex methodology than previous studies, the BSIA produced a high, low and medium figure for each sector of the economy and then added the number together to say that the low estimate is 4 million cameras, the medium estimate is 4.9 million and the high estimate is 5.9 million.

Importantly, they were counting all CCTV surveillance cameras, regardless of whether they face the public or not. So a camera in a storeroom or other area that is seldom visited by anyone counts just as much as a camera looking at the pavement outside a shop.

Previous studies have produced figures based on counting publicly-facing cameras in a certain region and then extrapolating to the rest of the UK.

Famously, two academics, McCahill and Norris, produced a figure based on counting the number of cameras they could see on two high streets in London and then extrapolating to get a number for the whole UK. Their figure of 4.2 million was quoted for many years until another study, based on a sample of cameras by the Cheshire Constabulary, claimed that the number of publicly facing cameras was 1.85 million.

“This study represents the most comprehensive and up-to-date study undertaken into the number of CCTV cameras in use in the UK,” said Simon Adcock, chairman of the BSIA’s CCTV Section. “Because there is no single reliable source of data no number can ever be held as truly accurate however the middle of our range suggests that there are around 5 million cameras.  A key finding of our research is that the proportion of cameras controlled by local government is around 1 in 70.  The government’s current regulation whilst welcome will initially cover only a tiny proportion of CCTV systems and these are already the most professionally run and tightly controlled schemes.

“Private companies are actually funding the majority of the nation’s CCTV on the basis that it delivers a clear return on investment and this is where the majority of footage used by Police is sourced.  Effective CCTV schemes are an invaluable source of crime detection and evidence for the Police. For example in 2009, 95 per cent of Scotland Yard murder cases used CCTV footage as evidence.  The public is supportive of CCTV with 62 per cent wanting to see more in their local area and it is important that we retain their trust and confidence.

“CCTV surveillance is a highly-specialised discipline and the real danger to the reputation of the technology comes from non-specialist installers who are largely unaware aware of current best practice or standards. The BSIA is therefore fully supportive of appropriate regulation to ensure that schemes are designed to be effective and that CCTV is only used for appropriate purposes.”

Pauline Norstrom, vice chair of the BSIA’s CCTV section said: “There is a popular misconception that the camera population in the UK is owned by the Government. The BSIA statistics set the record straight once and for all. It is private businesses who own the material camera population, not the Government. Day to day, these cameras are not available to the Government and law enforcement agencies, they are busy working to protect their owner’s premises.

“It is only when a major crime occurs, that the Police ask business owners if they have captured any footage of criminals passing through the private cameras field of view. Without the help of businesses investing into their privately-owned systems, the Police would only have access to the one publically-owned camera per 1,000 head of population. Far too few to be useful and certainly not the surveillance society, which could be portrayed.

“As so many cameras are operated for the purpose of securing business premises, and the BSIA represents the private security industry sector, the BSIA have worked tirelessly to introduce standards and guidelines to CCTV camera operators to ensure that evidence export is managed according to Home Office and Police guidelines, now contained in the British Standard BS 8495.

“With so many new entrants to the CCTV market attempting to capitalise on the ever-growing demand from businesses to protect their properties, there is a need for regulation of the minimum standard of system design, installation and image quality recorded by these systems. This will also ensure that the private security industry continues to be able to provide high quality CCTV evidence to the Police for the greater good of the public.

“The BSIA are leading the way in providing this guidance and best practice to owners, designers, manufacturers and installers of CCTV systems to ensure that minimum standards of quality are met by responsible, high quality organisations.”