Dave Page, Director for Safer Neighbourhoods, explained that the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) was the legislation which governed how the council could direct surveillance and access communications data. He said that residents had understandable concerns about authorities ‘snooping’ on their private lives and that RIPA governed what officers could and could not do. Any action was required to be both necessary and proportionate considering the activity being investigated, which was further limited as the alleged crime needed to carry at least a six month prison sentence for the powers to be used. All applications made under RIPA had to be signed off by a senior officer in the council and then agreed by a district judge or lay magistrate.
There were two key powers available to the council under RIPA, the first of which was the collection of communications data which allowed officers to know who had contacted each other and when, although the content of the communications was not available. This had been used twice since July 2014, both in connection with car clocking.
The second power was that of covert surveillence. This either involved placing hidden CCTV cameras or covert surveillence carried out by the council’s two professional witnesses. These powers had been used 18 times since July 2014 to identify perpetrators of ASB, criminal damage and drug dealing, investigate theft from parking meters and to investigate counterfeit goods.
The council had a non RIPA surveillance policy which sets out the circumstances In which officers could use surveillance techniques where the crime threshold is not met, although the reasonable and proportionate test was still applied. The policy meant that officers could demonstrate that this activity was lawful and necessary in terms of the qualification in Article 8(2) of the European Convention on Human Rights. Non-RIPA surveillance had been used on 31 occasions to identify perpetrators of ASB, criminal damage, harassment, intimidation and drug dealing. The ability to carry out this surveillance was considered by officers to be important in supporting victims of crime.
Dave Page explained that the council maintained a substantial overt CCTV network with over 1100 cameras connected to the control room. There had been an increase of 300 cameras in the past two years, as well as a large number of upgrades having been made to the existing network. More mobile CCTV cameras were being bought as these had proven to be very successful. There had been 219 more arrests assisted by the CCTV team in 2015 than 2014. The team had also won the Met Police’s ‘CCTV Team of the Year’.
Councillor Dewhirst asked whether funding for the CCTV network was secure and said that he felt there was a good case for CCTV cameras on those parts of King Street not yet covered by the network. Dave Page said that he was aware of Councillor Dewhirst’s desire for more CCTV on King Street. He explained that S.106 had been a good source of funding for additional CCTV cameras and that this seemed likely to continue, although the introduction of the Community Infrastructure Levy might have some impact.
Councillor Cassidy asked how many RIPA requests were refused by senior officers and the judiciary. Dave Page said that officers knew the thresholds for RIPA applications and so few were made which were not acceptable. He sent about half of requests back to officers for further explanation and justification. He was pleased to say that none of the applications made to the judiciary had been refused.
Councillor Holder asked whether mobile CCTV cameras could be used to reduce crimes on estates. Dave Page explained that mobiles were currently tasked to deal with anti-social behaviour, particularly fly-tipping, however future work could be directed towards housing estates. He said that it would be interesting to see if intelligence could be used to position cameras in areas where crime was predicted, rather than reacting to events.
Councillor Hamilton noted that upgrades were planned for CCTV on estates and asked what the process for engaging residents in this was. Dave Page explained that residents were consulted on the proposals. Claire Rai agreed to let Councillor Hamilton know which estates were scheduled for upgrades.