FOR the last 10 years, a network of CCTV cameras spanning the Kingdom’s towns and villages have been helping to keep our streets safe.
They play a vital part in the day to day activities of Fife Police and have helped lead to thousands of criminals being arrested and many thousands of hours of police time saved since.
The scheme is a community safety partnership between the police and Fife Council and a team of 11 CCTV operators and a review officer work from a central control room within police headquarters in Glenrothes.
This week we went behind the scenes to meet those who monitor the system.
Mark Waterfall is the service manager, supervising the team.
He told the Press: “There are 101 cameras across 12 towns in Fife.
“They are all fixed on poles, or on brackets on the side of buildings and the footage is fed back by fibre optic cables.
“We have five teams of two providing 24/7 coverage, 365 days a year and we have one full time review officer whose job it is to search for footage and turn it into evidence for the court.
“The control room has never been unstaffed - ever. Someone is always someone in there.’’
The switch from analogue to digital last year has also helped the teams behind the scenes.
They can pause and rewind footage at the touch of a mouse, and provide live informatio to frontline officers.
“Before we had an analogue control room, but it was upgraded to a digital recording platform last year.
“There’s the ability to tailor what you’re looking at, so if an operator spots something on one of the screens on the wall they can bring it up larger on their own screen to get a closer look,’’ said Mark.
“On a Friday or Saturday night we can have cameras outside pubs and clubs right in front of us to monitor those coming and going.
“It’s very flexible now that it’s totally digital. We have the ability to talk to the dispatchers in the contact centre, as well as talking direct to officers.
“The operators constantly monitor police radio channels and are able to quickly respond to ongoing incidents.
“Very often they are the people who see things happening which require a police response and are able to direct officers precisely to where something has happened, or somebody needs help.
“If an incident is ongoing and a weapon is dropped but out of sight of officers, we can watch the cameras’ footage and direct officers at the scene to where we’ve seen it being dropped or hidden.”
Although they are continually monitoring what’s happening in streets around Fife, the role of the operators varies from assisting with ongoing incidents to tracing missing people or those who are suspected of shoplifting.
Mark explains: “In the last four days we’ve found four missing people already.
“It not only helps officers track a missing person, reducing police time, but it reduces the stress factor on the missing person, who in some cases may be vulnerable. It also reduces the stress on families if we can locate someone quickly.’’
This year cameras have helped trace 70 people - last year they found 75.
Added Mark: ‘‘With four months to go this year we’re going to break that target.
Figures released by Fife Police reveal 456 missing people have been traced safe and well between 2005 and 2011 due to the dedication of the operators, who use their observation skills every day to keep the community safe.
A total of 5340 people were arrested during that same period as a direct result of the CCTV service.
Mark continued: “We have a very experienced and motivated team.
“This system is all just a tool. It’s the folk here and the on the ground who make it work. Without the skills and experience of the people, it would be useless.
“The operators can see things that others might not see.
‘‘They have got really good at reading body language as the cameras are not just used for detection - it’s about safety too.
“If on a Saturday night an operator sees things are getting a bit fractious, officers can be alerted and can go along, and things calm down.
“There’s no way of knowing whether it would have become something more serious, but at the same time there’s no knowing that it wouldn’t have.
“We also often protecting people from themselves as they come out of clubs and pubs. They may have a fall that could be serious.
“For example in winter someone comes out of a nightclub, falls over and hits their head. Our operators can see this happening and alert officers to attend and ensure that person gets the assistance they need.
“People tend to forget the CCTV is about safety too.
‘‘I am proud to run a department which is both professional and dedicated to keeping the people of Fife safe through contributing to reducing anti-social behaviour and other criminal activity.
“This idea of the big brother thing, with someone always watching, would you not rather have someone looking out for you?
“If you’re just going about your daily business, we’re not interested in what you’re doing.”