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Police 'too busy' to watch CCTV film of burglaries

Ben Leapman and Charlotte Mcdonald-Gibson / London Telegraph | April 9 2006

Comment: They don't prevent crime and they seemingly don't help solve crime, so what is the point in so many surveillance cameras?

Police are refusing to study CCTV tapes on which criminals are caught in the act because, they say, they are too busy.

As a result, crime victims complain that they are losing faith in officers' ability to protect them.

One trader, who reported a break-in, was told that police did not have time to review footage from a camera in front of his premises.

A woman whose handbag was stolen in a cafe was told by an officer: "It's not our job to check the CCTV cameras." Cafe staff kept a tape of the incident for two weeks in case police wanted it, but then recorded over it.

Both cases involved the Metropolitan Police. A spokesman said: "If there is no clear indication that there is a good picture of the subject or incident on the CCTV camera, we have to consider the amount of hours that would be taken up by officers, and if it is the best use of their time."

However, crime victims said detectives could not possibly know whether the tapes contained vital evidence unless they examined them.

Police forces across Britain admitted to the Sunday Telegraph that they would not always view footage from a camera positioned outside a shop that had been burgled overnight. Nine out of 52 constabularies said that in such a case they would not necessarily view the tape.

When Teddington Station Garden Centre in south-west London was broken into last month, the owner, Nigel Dawes, alerted police, but was told that no one would review the evidence from a nearby CCTV camera installed by Richmond council.

He asked the council whether he could watch the film, but was told that this was illegal. He called the police action "disgraceful". He said: "They're running an anti-burglary campaign around here, with signs saying, 'This area is under surveillance', but a few high-profile cases where they caught someone could be a good deterrent."

The council said it always responded to police requests for film. After Mr Dawes complained, council staff watched the footage and passed on their findings to police. No one has been arrested.

Forces that said they would not always view film of a burgled shop were Bedfordshire, Humberside, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Northamptonshire, South Wales, Suffolk, West Midlands and the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

Lincolnshire Police said: "It would depend on the workload of the officer allocated to the case and other priorities, which may include a serious assault or robbery."

South Wales Police said: "There are considerations of manpower available and many other considerations."

Humberside operated a controversial "screening policy" last month in which commercial burglaries, theft, criminal damage and common assault were not routinely investigated unless they were carried out by prolific offenders, involved vulnerable or repeat victims, or were classed as racist or homophobic.

However, 31 forces said they would always be prepared to watch overnight film of a burgled shop. The Home Office said such decisions were an operational matter for forces. David Davis, the shadow home secretary, said: "The first priority of the police is to catch criminals."

The Federation of Small Businesses said the failure of some forces to review CCTV evidence summed up the low priority with which police treated crimes against commercial premises. A spokesman said: "Low-level crimes like vandalism, graffiti and burglary can wear down a business and damage the confidence of shoppers and investors in an area."

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