WITHIN a windowless office beneath Hillingdon's seat of power, two men sit watching television. There are countless channels to choose from but every one is showing drama. The sound quality is non-existent, and the stars of the show are you. LIBBY JONES reports on spending a morning watching residents' every move in Hillingdon Council's CCTV control room.
KNIFE-WEILDING party-goers, drunken yobs and opportunistic thieves. As control room supervisor David Nott puts it, 'every day is different' at the central control room for the borough's security cameras.
Set up in 1997, 140 cameras manned 24 hours a day now monitor the movements of people across Hillingdon.
CCTV manager Richard Stainthorpe said: "The town centres are the main problem areas where most people gather and that's the reason the cameras are installed there in the first place.
"Some days it's very quiet but the borough is a low crime area in comparison with some London boroughs."
Two CCTV operators watch the cameras, along with a supervisor, over a 12-hour shift.
With direct lines to police, shopping centres and pubs, they can communicate quickly if they see something amiss.
"Often it's people too drunk in the early hours of the morning. They don't realise they're being caught on camera. Sometimes we see kids as young as 13 out at three in the morning," one operator explained.
In one clip, a thief skulks in the dead of night to steal bricks from a central reservation laid only days earlier. He leaves with the stash only to be picked up by police.
Another clip shows three drunken yobs throwing bricks into the road. After operators call police, officers are seen making one of the men, who failed to escape, pick the bricks up and return them to the side of the road.
Mr Notts said: "Potentially that could have been incredibly dangerous. One of the most dramatic incidents we had was a few weeks ago. A car crashed at the St Andrew's roundabout (Uxbridge). It was filling with smoke. Luckily someone was brave enough to drag the driver out before it burst into flames."
One operator told of becoming desensitised over time to some of the more shocking things they witness.
"You do become detached but I always remember what it's like to be out there when things are happening," he said.
Mr Stainthorpe added: "There are gratifying elements to the job though. It's reassuring when we spot someone trying to commit suicide and they're talked down."
In the future, trials are planned for Bluetooth operated cameras, which would allow equipment to be moved quickly to new areas.
Efforts with police are also being coordinated to identify key crime hotspots and regular offenders.
An operator added: "The rest of the world's asleep but we're up and we see the whole lot. It's crazy."