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Law, Order, and Emergency Services in the UK

Much to the relief of the nation’s residents, crime in the UK is usually low key. As long as you adhere to a number of standard precautions, chances are you won’t see much in the way of crime in the UK. Still, crime and terrorism are frequent worries there. Our article tells you why.
Expats might need some time to get used to the prevalence of CCTV surveillance.

Home Office: Keeping Citizens Safe since 1782

The Home Office is the UK’s main government body in charge of immigration, national and border security, and all matters related to law and order. The task of taking care of actual police work is handled by the respective police forces in each community. A total of 28 different agencies and public bodies comprise the Home Office. Among them, for example, are the Security Service (MI5), HM Passport Office, and a number of advisory bodies.

While Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own agencies for matters of policing and criminal justice, the Home Office also has authority over a number of reserved and excepted matters in those two countries, including extradition, immigration, and nationality.

For 2016/17, the Home Office’s self-proclaimed responsibilities are to:

  • empower the public to hold the police to account for their role in cutting crime
  • free up the police to fight crime more effectively and efficiently
  • create a more integrated criminal justice system
  • secure borders and reduce immigration
  • protect people’s freedoms and civil liberties
  • protect citizens from terrorism
  • work on the problems caused by illegal drug use

The Controversy surrounding CCTV

The UK enjoys a certain level of fame (some might say infamy) due to its ongoing love affair with CCTV surveillance in public places. While expats might be familiar with surveillance equipment being pointed at them in banks or shopping malls, only few will be prepared for the extent of video camera supervision commonplace in the UK.

Ever since the popularity of CCTV skyrocketed in the mid-1990s, cameras have become a familiar sight in nearly every city and town center. The British Security Industry Association (BSIA) estimates that there are just less than six million CCTV cameras in the UK. While this is a mind-boggling number, you should keep in mind that the overwhelming majority of cameras are indoors and operated privately, not by government authorities.

The idea behind installing CCTV cameras in public places, public transportation, car parks, and just about anywhere else is quite simple: criminals are less likely to strike when they know they are being watched by authorities. While this sounds like a very convincing train of thought in theory, results have not been as significant in reality as might have been anticipated. While there was a noticeable decrease in car park crimes, for example, there is little evidence CCTV helped to bring law and order to many other places.

Still, there are a number of much-publicized cases in which video material gathered from CCTV cameras helped to identify or find suspects, and more than a few people will happily admit to feeling a lot safer when there are cameras around. For many others, however, CCTV surveillance in public is not only an unnecessary invasion of privacy and civil liberties, but also susceptible to misuse and abuse.

In an effort to better address those and similar concerns — for example, those related to the unsupervised and unreported setup of cameras by authorities — the government introduced a code of practice for CCTV surveillance cameras in public places in June 2013. The 12 point code stipulates the use and purpose of cameras in the public place and gives camera operators clear guiding principles. With it, the new role of surveillance camera commissioner, whose job is to encourage compliance with the code, was introduced.

While these efforts were not quite enough to satisfy the most ardent of detractors (for example, No CCTV and Big Brother Watch), they were generally seen as a step in the right direction. Seeing how the popularity of CCTV will most probably continue unabated, there might be the need for further guidelines in the future.

In an Emergency, Who You Gonna Call?

All emergency services in the UK, be it police, the fire brigade, or medical response, are of excellent quality and quick to react. Emergency services can be reached by dialing 999; an operator will ask you what kind of assistance you require and will redirect you accordingly. Calls made to the emergency operator are always free of charge, no matter where you make them from or what phone you use. However, you have to have a valid SIM card in your phone to make an emergency call. Dialing the pan-European emergency number 112 will connect you to the same emergency operators as 999.

If you are not in an emergency but do require police assistance, for example, if you would like to report your car as stolen or if your property has been damaged, the number you want to dial is 101. This number works in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. In contrast to the 999 emergency number, dialing 101 is not free of charge, but costs 0.15 GBP — a rather justifiable price.


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