Gateshead-based Nisa Local retailer Saqi Ghafoor has 40 CCTV cameras in his 4,000sq ft store. You might think that number was ample to do the job – not so Saqi, who’s currently upgrading the system and adding another 16.

“When we took over the store three or four years ago, there were four cameras and a black-and-white screen. We had a full refit and spent £18,000 on a new top-of-the-range system,” he explains. That’s an awful lot of money, but Saqi reckons it’s been worth every penny. “Before we had the new system we didn’t know what a problem we had with shoplifters, but with this equipment we can catch and detain thieves,” he says. And he’s got a good conviction rate, with 95% of the people he detains being prosecuted.

“We’ve caught quite a few people over the years and many of those were shoplifting as a job – stealing £50-worth of goods at a time. The last incident involved a prolific shoplifter who had 26 prior convictions.”

Saqi has nine screens in the office, plus two behind the tills which staff can control, so if anyone is acting suspiciously they can ‘follow’ them around the store.

As soon as Saqi or his staff catch anyone on tape, they call the police and, more importantly, the police respond. “I think we have a good police response because they know we will provide them with quality evidence,” Saqi says.

When it comes to the police, it’s good to build a relationship with crime prevention officers, but advice on CCTV can be scarce – as Convenience Store found. When researching this article, we contacted Greater Manchester Police, the Metropolitan Police and Kent Police, as well as the Association of Chief Police Officers, and none was able to offer definitive advice on standards of CCTV.

At Kent Police, for example, a spokeswoman says that although their crime prevention officers can give general advice they never stipulate that retailers must have this or that system: “It varies from case to case and depends on what the retailer can afford, but obviously better quality is better for us,” she says.

However, there is a document available from the Home Office entitled UK Police Requirements for Digital CCTV Systems, aimed at people using CCTV who may want to use their recordings as evidence. The basic premise of the document is whether your system is ‘fit for purpose’ (see panel, right).

Richard Quinn, head of loss prevention for food retailing at the Co-operative Group, liaises with police on a regular basis to ensure his stores’ systems are up to date. He says CCTV’s primary purpose in Co-op stores is to protect staff and customers. “CCTV is one of the most important security components we use; it’s invaluable. We make sure we have the right kit to do the job. We don’t go for systems with bells and whistles; we buy what we need.”

CBES Security Systems business development manager Dave Lister says that when considering a new single-site CCTV application his company always consults the local crime prevention officer who will advise on area crime trends, hot spots and any ‘recommended’ regional minimum standards. “If the system is for a multisite owner then we would base our system on the hardware currently in their estate.”

He says it’s very difficult to quantify the effectiveness of a CCTV system. “If losses are defined then you can measure the return on your investment. But if the system and outlet are new and there is very little perceived crime, then it may be that the deterrent value is high and it’s then difficult to put a figure on what you may have lost without CCTV. 

“In many instances the value cannot be quantified as the system serves as reassurance for staff and customers in vulnerable situations.” 

As far as costs go, Lister says it is very application-specific, but as an example a four-camera system with digital recording may start at about £2,500 (installed). But the same type of system in a high-risk area may go up to £10,000-plus – it’s all about defining risk and requirements.

“If a retailer was considering a cut-price system I would ask them to consider the worst-case scenario – for example, armed robbery or assault. How would they feel if the police couldn’t use recorded images to either trace – or worse – prosecute, simply because corners were cut?”

James Wilson, business manager at Presec Systems, has found that police guidelines vary depending on the police force. “Basic requirements are high-resolution cameras and a decent recorder, but whether a camera can recognise a person often depends on the lens and the position of the camera. Police often require the head and shoulders of the person filmed to fill two-thirds of the screen.

“A lot of premises have cameras all over for general coverage and then one on the back wall that looks straight at the door to get this head- and-shoulders recognition shot.”

He reckons CCTV is still a ‘grudge’ purchase for many people: “They say they want such and such a system but when they see the price they change their minds and go for something cheaper.”

Watching brief

Many of the systems today allow retailers to view images remotely, when they are away from the store. Andrew Newton uses such a system for his Nisa Local store in Brierley Hill, Dudley, West Midlands. He invested about £3,000 in a Vantage CCTV system in 2004, but the following year upgraded it with a static IP address so he could view it remotely on the internet.

“It’s not perfect,” he says, “and I bet the systems you can get now are a lot better, but I have managed to spot shoplifters on it. It’s not easy, but it has been done.”

Andrew says he’d recommend any retailer to get a remote viewing system: “It gives you greater control, more freedom and better peace of mind. My staff like it because they know I’m keeping an eye on them.”

Andrew views the CCTV via his laptop: “I turn it on in the morning when I get up and look at it before I go to the store and when I get home I always have the laptop running while I’m watching TV.”

When it comes to whether the system has paid for itself, Andrew says you need to take a long-term view. “The initial outlay is thousands of pounds, but it’s necessary in a big store, especially if you’ve got lots of nooks and crannies.” As the old saying goes, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

CCTV system guidelines

Quality

Are your pictures good enough?

● Decide what you want to see and select a system that will do it. The appropriate resolution, level of compression and number of pictures per session will be determined by what you wish to see in the recording. If you can’t see it then it’s not fit for purpose. You should not rely on enhancement features such as zooms to add extra detail
● A good way to ensure your system is capable of achieving what you want is to do a subjective test. Set up a camera and get a volunteer to walk through the door, and record the pictures
● Remember the quality of the recorded or printed pictures may differ from the display – view the recorded or printed pictures to assess the system’s performance
● Make sure the system clock is set correctly as time and date information is often critical to police investigations
● Do not reduce picture quality to fit the available storage capacity of the system

Storage

What to keep and how to store it

● Access to the system should be controlled to prevent tampering or unauthorised viewing. Keep a record of who has accessed the system and when
● The system should have sufficient storage capacity for 31 days-worth of good quality pictures
● The system should be capable of securing relevant pictures for review or export at a later date

Export

How much video should the system export and in what format?

● To facilitate replay and export, a trained operator and simple user guide should be available
● The operator should know the approximate export times
● Export should include any software needed to view or replay the pictures
● Pictures should be exported in the native file format at the same quality as they were stored on the system

Playback

Can pictures be viewed easily?

● The playback software should have: variable speed control including frame by frame, forward and reverse viewing; display single and multiple cameras and maintain aspect ratio; display a single camera at full resolution; permit recording from each camera to be searched by date and time; allow printing/saving with time and date
● The time and date of each picture should be legible
● Once exported to removable media, you should be able to replay files immediately.

A full version of this document is available on a CD. For details visit http://scienceandresearch.homeoffice.gov.uk/hosdb/cctv-imaging-technology/cctv-guidance/CCTV-CD/

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