The effectiveness of CCTV as a weapon against crime was thrown into doubt yesterday after figures showed only one crime per year is solved in London for every 1,000 cameras.
The figures were revealed in an internal Metropolitan Police report, which also carried warnings by a senior officer at Scotland Yard, who said that the police must do more to head off a crisis in public confidence over the use of CCTV cameras. Detective Chief Inspector Mick Neville said officers should raise their game by making captured images count against criminals.
There are more than one million CCTV cameras in London, and the Government has spent £500m on the equipment. But, in 2008, only 1,000 crimes were solved using CCTV images because officers failed to make the most of potentially vital evidence.
In the report, Det Ch Insp Neville said people are filmed many times every day and have high expectations when they become victims of crime. But he suggested that the reality was often disappointing as, in some cases, officers do not bring criminals to justice even after they are caught on camera and identified.
Mr Neville said CCTV played a role in capturing just eight out of 269 suspected robbers across London in one month. Critics of Britain's so-called "surveillance state" are likely to seize on his comments as further evidence that CCTV is not helping police win the fight against crime.
The former shadow Home Secretary, David Davis, described the report as "entirely unsurprising". He said: "It should provoke a major and long overdue rethink on where the Home Office crime prevention budget is being spent. CCTV leads to massive expense and minimum effectiveness. It creates a huge intrusion on privacy, yet provides little or no improvement in security.
"The Metropolitan Police has been extraordinarily slow to act to deal with the ineffectiveness of CCTV, something true both in London and across the country."
The Metropolitan Police is piloting a scheme, known as Operation Javelin, to improve the use of images from existing cameras. Staff in 11 boroughs have created dedicated Visual Images Identification and Detections Offices (VIIDO). These collect and label images before passing them on to a central circulation unit that distributes them to officers, forces and the media. Some 5,260 images have been viewed so far this year, with identification made in more than 1,000 cases.
Mr Neville said the scheme should be expanded across the force in an attempt to make the investigation of CCTV evidence as professional as fingerprinting and DNA technology.
Detective Superintendent Michael McNally, who commissioned the report, said improvements in the use of CCTV can be made.
"There are some concerns, and that's why we have a number of projects that are on-going at the moment," he said. "CCTV, we recognise, is a really important part of investigation and prevention of crime, so how we retrieve that from the individual CCTV pods is really quite important."
A Metropolitan Police spokesman added: "The Metropolitan Police is currently the only police service to employ this method of CCTV tracking."