Tackling anti-social behaviour on buses with live CCTV technology
Posted: 10 April 2017 | Mark Babington, Safety & Security Manager at Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) | 1 comment
National Express West Midlands has installed 4G Ve motion CCTV units to its vehicles, helping Safer Travel police officers to target anti-social behaviour on buses in real-time. Mark Babington, Safety & Security Manager at Transport for West Midlands (TfWM), explores the benefits of the technology and speaks with some colleagues involved for their views.
Footage is recorded by on-bus cameras and sent over the 4G network, when it’s available. If it’s not, it uses 3G. West Midlands Police officers working in the Safer Travel team can then tap into live CCTV feeds and view anti-social behaviour on any vehicles that are fitted with the equipment. Because the footage is real-time, police can stop the bus and quickly act upon any anti-social behaviour.
Working together in the Safer Travel Partnership (STP), anti-social behaviour and crime captured on CCTV from National Express West Midlands’ buses has already resulted in a 75% success rate in identifying offenders.
Michael Sayers, Safer Travel Officer, explains the thinking behind the choice of supplier: “West Midlands Police were interested in this technology because of a similar system we’d used in the past. This worked via a microwave link between the kit on a bus and a viewing device in a police vehicle. This was limiting because the device could only be viewed if you were within 50m of the bus. Obviously, that’s not always possible, especially in a busy urban area like the West Midlands.
“We trialled several companies who offered live feeds of CCTV. Reliability was absolutely crucial. We needed a system that would continuously stream without the signal dropping out, but we hadn’t found anything we could be confident in.
“While we were talking to another con tractor about this, they told us about Vemotion. We were slightly sceptical, but the contractor put us in touch with Vemotion’s MD Stewart McCone, who came and gave us a demo.
“Vemotion allowed us to keep the trial going for several weeks to test performance and it was excellent. To this day, I don’t think it’s ever dropped out of signal. We can now monitor National Express’ buses from anywhere in the country if we need to. Safer Travel officers can access the images from their computer tablets whenever there is an operation running. We can also have these images streaming live into our dedicated Safer Travel control room in central Birmingham.”
In 2015, the STP successfully tested the 4G Vemotion CCTV units for the BBC’s Crimewatch Roadshow. As part of the test a pickpocket was caught ‘live’ on camera on the top deck of a National Express West Midlands bus, and the Safer Travel control room dispatched a rapid response unit to arrest them before the offender had even realised they had been caught.
Michael adds: “When we decided to procure a number of Vemotion units, we used intelligence-led policing to identify which routes were problematic in terms of anti-social behaviour. We worked with National Express West Midlands to fit the kit on buses on those routes and arranged police operations to tackle any issues that came up.”
Bus passengers can use the STP’s ‘See Something, Say Something’ service to report any anti-social behaviour on National Express West Midlands buses. These reports help to build intelligence data which helps Safer Travel officers to pinpoint particular hotspots to target.
Since they’ve been installed, the Vemotion units have delivered results. One example was the 14 and 97 routes through Birmingham’s Washwood Heath, where school pupils were carrying weapons and a pupil was stabbed on a bus in November 2015.
STP carried out a week-long operation in February 2016. Officers conducted high visibility patrols on school buses. The 4G units were put on these specific buses and STP staff monitored the cameras on their tablets, watching the pupils and looking for any weapons they may be hiding or displaying to their friends on the bus.
STP also used the 4G units on buses with the highest number of smokers. The stats are obtained using data from an anomaly button the drivers push when they detect a smoker and from reports from the public. For three days every week, two plain-clothes officers patrolled a specific bus route with a National Express Bus Inspector. That same bus route also had two police officers in a marked police vehicle with a bus inspector.
The police officers used the Vemotion software to monitor the 4G units on this bus route for smokers. If they saw any smoking on the CCTV feed, they would find the bus, stop it and the bus inspector would deal with the smoker accordingly. Neither police officers nor bus inspectors currently have the power to issue fixed penalty notices (FPN) for smoking, so the smoker’s details were taken and passed onto the council, who then issue the FPN.
Footage gathered from Vemotion units on buses can also be watched back later. The original footage recorded on a National Express bus is not interfered with and is kept as normal (by National Express). If police require footage from a bus for evidence, they go through the normal channels.
West Midlands Police and National Express believe the Vemotion units are not only useful for detecting and tackling anti-social behaviour on buses, but also act as a deterrent. People travelling on the bus know that they could be being watched at any time.
STP’s Sergeant Fergal Sharkey also believes the system helps reassure National Express West Midlands’ bus drivers. He explained how his officers take the tablets out on patrol, find a bus with a 4G unit, then stop the bus briefly and speak to the driver. The police officers then demonstrate the software on the tablet to the drivers.
Sergeant Sharkey says: “The bus drivers were really pleased. It made them feel they’re not on their own out there, that police officers could be watching what’s happening on-board their bus in real-time and will respond. It also helped drivers understand how we use this information to organise police operations to target the high-ASB routes.”
Peter Coates, Managing Director of National Express West Midlands, says: “We were very happy to be able to install the Vemotion units on our buses. We know from Transport Focus data that feeling safe is a key driver in people choosing to use public transport; 78% of our passengers said they feel secure, and this figure has climbed six percentage points since 2012.
“Vemotion is a key part of West Midlands Safer Travel Partnership’s armoury, and I believe it was a big factor in the Safer Travel Partnership winning a silver award for ‘Putting Passengers First’ at the recent UK Bus Awards.
“We are committed to keeping people safer on our buses and we will keep exploring new technology and new ways of working to do this.”
The Partnership, which is the first of its type in the country, is made up of TfWM, West Midlands Police, British Transport Police (BTP) and transport operators including National Express West Midlands. It has access to over 1,000 CCTV cameras at bus, rail and tram stations, parkand-ride sites, bus routes and bus shelters. The dedicated control centre is staffed 24 hours a day to spot and respond to incidents.
Travelling on public transport in the West Midlands has seen crime fall by 70% in the last eight years. On the bus network the total number of recorded crimes from 1 April 2015 to 31 March 2016 was 2,755; a 6% fall from 2,930 the previous year.
With 18 years of experience in community safety, security and crime reduction, Mark Babington joined Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) in 2008, and has overseen a reduction in crime on the bus network of nearly 70%. Supported by post graduate qualifications in Business and Forensic Psychology, Mark has used technology and analytical tools to drive efficiency and performance.