Big Brother has grown up and got smarter.
A new generation of 'intelligent' cameras is being pioneered in Portsmouth
The technology is programmed to watch out for certain suspect behaviour or incidents – such as a car going too fast, someone loitering for longer than normal in a car park, or people coming together in known drug-dealing areas – and sends out an alert if it records something suspicious.
The footage can then be monitored by a CCTV operator, who can decide if an offence is being committed.
In the first set-up of its kind in the UK, Portsmouth City Council has installed a system based on behaviour-recognition software to increase the effectiveness of its camera monitoring.
The Perceptrak system, produced by Smart CCTV Ltd of Havant, has been set up to watch quiet areas such as car parks, stairwells or corridors in buildings and streets at night-time.
It effectively allows CCTV staff to monitor more cameras than before because they do not have be constantly watching each screen to see crimes taking place.
Nick Hewitson, managing director of the Havant firm, said: 'When it sees something untoward happening, the system sends an alert to the control room.
'This allows the security officer to make a human decision on whether to monitor the scene and make an appropriate response. It also ensures that many more scenes are being watched than is normally possible.' The system is being provided to the city council for free. The council control rooms have 142 cameras with live monitoring, watched 24 hours a day.
Ray Stead, CCTV manager at the city council, said the decision to install the software followed a successful trial period in 2006.
'The software is an analytical package which you pass information through.
'It analyses what's on it, and throws up an alarm to say "come and look at me".'
Councillor Jason Fazackarley, cabinet member for community safety, said: 'This is a fantastic development. It's the 21st century equivalent of a nightwatchman, but unlike a nightwatchman it never blinks, it never takes a break and it never gets bored.
'It's an eye in the night. The darkness is no longer a place where criminals can hide.'