Crime watch

CCTV cameras that can determine if a crime is taking place and inform the nearest officers are being developed for the UK police.

CCTV cameras that can determine if a crime is taking place and inform the nearest officers are being developed for the UK police.

Researchers at the University of Reading will adapt camera systems currently used to monitor traffic movements to enable them to identify crimes in action, in a project involving the Police Information Technology Organisation and the Home Office’s Police Scientific Development Branch (PSDB).

The project will focus particularly on volume crime such as car break-ins, said Dr James Ferryman from the University of Reading’s school of systems engineering.

Software developed by the school’s computational vision team is used in traffic monitoring systems worldwide, but its ability to recognise whether people are committing crimes is limited. Some crimes are more easily identified than others, said Ferryman. ‘You can detect someone jumping over a barrier at an underground station more reliably than people fighting.’

The systems find it difficult to distinguish between people fighting and those simulating a fight, for example between drunk friends. They have problems telling the difference between drivers fumbling with keys to get into their cars and thieves tampering with locks.

The new systems would rely on different clues to decide whether a crime is taking place. It could, for example, monitor the positions of two people who are fighting over time. If the people entered its field of vision from different angles and began to fight, the camera could decide that this made it more likely that a crime was taking place.

The software designers could also use a range of other visual clues to decide what was happening. Trajectory analysis — how people move around the area under surveillance — would be particularly useful for detecting crimes. As the CCTV cameras would be networked, the software could be adopted to track the movements of people through an area.

Car thieves or muggers, who move around the carpark or train station looking for the easiest targets, could be identified as potential criminals by the cameras. Once the cameras have identified a crime taking place, they would transmit the information to officers via their wireless network.

The Police IT Organisation and PSDB have asked for the intelligent CCTV cameras to be tested in both indoor and outdoor locations, such as railway station platforms and carparks. This is because different lighting conditions place different requirements on the software.