Film of corrupt police `suppressed'

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The Independent Online
VIDEO EVIDENCE of corrupt police officers caught on street surveillance cameras is being suppressed, according to a study.

Patrol officers ordered camera operators not to film controversial incidents and in one case where an officer was filmed assaulting a man the footage was kept secret.

Researchers monitoring 600 hours of video surveillance in two cities and a town found examples of collusion between the police and civilian closed-circuit television operators to hide embarrassing or illegal incidents. They also found evidence that operators filmed ethnic minority people, the young and men disproportionately. Black people were about twice as likely to be filmed as whites.

The Government has allocated pounds 170m for new CCTV systems in the next three years - enough for 40,000 cameras.

The forthcoming book, The Maximum Surveillance Society, by Dr Clive Norris, lecturer in Criminology at Hull University, and Dr Gary Armstrong, lecturer in Sociology and Criminology at Reading University, found examples of wrongdoing and suppression of video evidence. In one case a site manager said his team filmed an incident where a police officer was caught on camera "punching a young man in the back of a police van". But the tape was never handed to the youth or his solicitor. It was eventually given to the police, but the system manager, a former police officer, said it was "not for disciplinary purposes....but for training".

A CCTV operator said an off- duty police officer was filmed coming out of a nightclub and getting into a fight with three black men after he told them obscenely they were drug dealers who should go back "to where they came from". The officer was filmed brawling. The operator said two black youths were arrested, but the tape was never released and the officer was not disciplined. In a third incident a CCTV operator who filmed a police officer strike a man with a baton 19 times was told by the police controller to "pull out" the camera to a wider angle so details could not be seen in close up.

The CCTV operators were a mixture of local authority employees and private security personnel, but in all cases the police could monitor the cameras and the largest team was based in a police station. The authors argue: "Our evidence suggests...processes at work enabling patrol officers to escape the disciplinary gaze. This was achieved either through control of the cameras or informal accommodations with the camera operators, so that video footage of questionable policing tactics is not recorded."

The authors also argue: "The young, the male and the black were systematically and disproportionately targeted, not because of their involvement in crime or disorder, but for `no obvious reason' and on the basis of categorical suspicion alone." They noted that "racist language was not unusual to hear among CCTV operators".

The study also found operators recorded people having sexual intercourse in part of a car park nicknamed "Shaggers Alley" and placed it on a "greatest hits" tape replayed for the civilian and police CCTV watchers.

Researchers observed the cameras operators monitoring 148 cameras between May 1995 and April 1996.

Molly Meacher, deputy chairperson of the Police Complaints Authority, said: "Any such CCTV operator who deliberately turns a video camera away from police misconduct, or who tampers with the recordings, deserves to be sacked."

The Maximum Surveillance Society: The Rise of CCTV by Berg Publishers, price pounds 14.99.