Home Opinion CCTV in Austerity: What Price Public Space Surveillance?

CCTV in Austerity: What Price Public Space Surveillance?

by Brian Sims
Derek Maltby MSyI RISC

Derek Maltby MSyI RISC

Law enforcement regimes across the UK typically involve a mixture of the human presence meshed with the use of technology. This is certainly true at the local authority level, where policing and CCTV have operated in tandem for many years. However, as Derek Maltby suggests, it would appear that both the Boys in Blue and camera-driven public space monitoring are now really beginning to suffer due to budget cuts driven by austerity.

I wonder if the general public is fully aware that, with the lack of policing resources and ever-more reliance being placed upon video surveillance – previously known as CCTV – to capture historic evidence of wrongdoing, this non-statutory service is also coming under threat as a direct result of cash-strapped local authorities trying to balance the books in times of austerity?

Back in 1994, the (then) Conservative Prime Minister John Major introduced Parliamentary measures that led to grants being made available to local authorities to install this ‘utopia’ crime prevention tool in order to complement the diligent law enforcement work of the police service.

New Labour then also enthusiastically embraced the scheme when coming to power in 1997, with Tony Blair’s Government boldly announcing £323 million in grants to local authorities and police forces over four years.

Many millions of pounds have been spent since then on the capital costs associated with Public Space Surveillance systems and millions more to keep them running, with proactive system operators alerting the police to any incidents of crimes being committed. Many local councillors across the nation support the use of such cameras, as their electorate will surely vote negatively at the Ballot Box should cameras be removed and that electorate then feels more vulnerable.

In my view, the country has now arrived at a watershed moment, with many local authorities choosing to turn off or otherwise reduce camera systems, many of which have become obsolete from lack of investment over many years such that they haven’t retained their technological currency and haven’t always remained compliant with legislation. Local authorities are now having to make difficult choices to balance their budgets for other statutory services.

Turning off the cameras

How many readers of Risk Xtra are aware of the decision taken by the Conservative-run Westminster City Council in the beating heart of London to remove all of the Public Space Surveillance cameras in and around the capital’s Oxford Street, Soho and ‘Theatre Land’ areas where we know from previous evidence the irrefutable value these cameras provide in convicting pickpockets and other criminals? No less than 75 cameras around Westminster were turned off two years ago in a determined bid to save up to £1 million per annum.

Rest assured that Westminster City Council isn’t alone in facing this monetary dilemma. Indeed, here at Global MSC Security we’re presently working with a number of local authorities confronted by the very same fiscal challenges.

With less visible policing on our streets and the heightened threat of terrorism ever-present, especially so in London, how can the Government now admit that the money spent originally installing such crime prevention measures doesn’t stack up (was a cost/benefit analysis ever carried out or was it just a vote winner?) and suggest that the general public no longer needs this safeguarding tool to be in situ?

With the police service’s ‘thin blue line’ becoming even thinner by the day, it seems, you would have expected to see video surveillance supporting the police’s role assuming some degree of paramount political importance.

Derek Maltby MSyI RISC is Managing Director of Global MSC Security

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