"That’s a stolen car.”

A vehicle has been captured on CCTV heading up Great Horton Road, and has been identified as stolen by a state-of-the-art vehicle recognition camera.

“The number plate will flash up and be verified by computer, then we will pass the information on to the police,” says Mark Britton, one of a team of camera operators working in Bradford Council’s CCTV control room. “We have to act very quickly as the vehicle is moving.”

With its banks of screens, the room resembles a mini mission control. Images are relayed to it from around 190 cameras dotted across the district.

From the city centre to Shipley, Bingley, Keighley and other outlying communities, these electronic eyes help detect crime and keep people safe and secure.

In the control room, operators work around the clock, monitoring the images and relaying details of crimes or suspicious behaviour to the police.

The success of the operation is backed by hard evidence – their work led to 1,154 arrests last year to December 21 – and is a vital part of crime-busting initiatives in the district.

These include the City Centre Beat scheme, which has seen shoplifting plummet by 41 per cent over the past four years.

“We monitor the police airways channels and we’re very active on the radio channel used by retailers,” adds Mark.

“We get calls saying they suspect someone shoplifting, or something is going on in the street, and the operator can train the camera on the location.”

Adds fellow camera operator Jamie Fozzard: “Sometimes a security guard will detain a suspect, but because he’s struggling, he’s physically unable to call the police. We can help and pass on the details.”

The operators are generally familiar with the suspects. The control room displays a series of photographs of known offenders. This means they can alert stores to individuals entering the shop or spotted nearby.

Adds CCTV unit manager Phil Holmes: “We can alert traders in other centres such as Keighley if known offenders decide to move away from Bradford and target another area where they believe they’re less well-known.”

Bradford Police can access the same images from cameras in its Nelson Street headquarters. “We alert them and they decide whether to send an officer to the scene,” says Phil.

The focus shifts from shops during the day to pubs and clubs at night. Incidents include assault, theft, criminal damage, anti-social behaviour, car crime, fighting and public order offences.

Stolen cars are, if possible, tracked from camera to camera, with the team attempting to gain ground on the thief.

Images of a car thief who broke into a vehicle in a Bradford car park using a machete helped to not only locate the criminal, who was arrested nearby, but to find the weapon, which he had hidden in a bush near Bradford Crown Court.

The siting of cameras is well-considered. “We work with the police and look at crime statistics,” says Phil. “Sometimes it’s not possible to site one in a certain location, so we have to work around existing street furniture.”

The tapes are frequently used as evidence in criminal prosecutions. Police liaison officer Bob Hudson receives around 300 requests for footage from incidents every month.

Phil’s team is constantly vigilant. “We see funny things, sad things, horrific things – we see everything,” he says. “It’s like having 190 one-eyed policemen on duty 24 hours a day!”

The team also monitor vulnerable buildings districtwide. Following a spate of lead thefts, cameras are being installed on historic Council-owned buildings including Keighley’s Cliffe Castle and Bolling Hall, Bradford.

Fly-tipping hot spots are also monitored and have resulted in prosecutions. Since a camera was installed on Bowling Old Road five months ago, there hasn’t been a problem.

“We are working closely with environmental health,” Says Phil. “I suspect there will be more cameras dedicated to fly-tipping in future.”

Littering comes sunder the team’s watchful eye. “We are not here to catch people flicking cigarette butts, but if it’s blatant we will act,” says Phil. “Our cameras picked up a car in Bradford whose occupants threw fast food packaging – they were prosecuted.”