The CCTV User Group, the UK’s leading representative of the CCTV industry and its users and operators, is warning local authorities against slashing video surveillance in the coming round of budget cuts.
According to CCTV User Group estimates, there are approximately 33,000 CCTV cameras owned by local authorities in England and Wales, covering public spaces such as roads, shopping districts, parks and social housing.
With central Government threatening to cut awards to local authorities, councils may have to find 20 per cent or more in savings and may be tempted to target non-statutory services such as CCTV video surveillance.
However, with overwhelming public support for CCTV and the threat of rising crime which tends to follow periods of austerity and recession, councillors risk a backlash from their constituents if they start removing cameras.
“For a relatively modest investment in equipment and staff, local authorities provide an invaluable support to local police in controlling crime and social disorder,” said Peter Fry, director of the CCTV User Group.
The Group, which recently held its annual conference, is comprised of CCTV professionals from throughout the UK including managers and operators of CCTV systems, consultants, service providers and installers, as well as manufacturers.
Delegates to the conference were deeply concerned about the impact that cuts to CCTV would have on local crime and disorder. One CCTV manager, summarising the view of many, said that the debate boils down to one simple question for councillors: “Do you want to protect your residents?”
Local authorities understand that CCTV is in high demand by residents, and councillors are regularly asked for additional cameras to be installed.
Despite this support, there have been notable cases where CCTV cameras have been deactivated or even entire systems decommissioned, only to be forced to reinstall the cameras after complaints by local businesses and residents.
Act in haste, repent at leisure
Bournemouth was an early leader in the installation of CCTV in the UK. Five years ago it decided to remove ageing cameras along the seafront rather than replace them. The removal of the cameras was quickly followed by a rise in crime in the area and the council decided to fund the installation of new cameras.
The screens went blank in Lisburn two years ago when the local business group was unable to provide enough money to keep the system working. They appealed unsuccessfully to the PSNI to make a contribution and shortly after shut the system down. Crime soared when the cameras were switched off and the PSNI quickly found the funds to help restore the system.
Turning systems off and back on again is not a simple matter, and a council may incur costs for contract terminations and decommissioning of equipment only to have to spend additional money to purchase new equipment and hire new staff.
“In this age of budget austerity, we cannot afford to waste money chasing imaginary savings,” Peter Fry said. “While it makes sense to look for savings where they can reasonably be found, CCTV should only be cut back after careful examination of the potential impact on local communities and businesses and in consultation with the local police.”
Police support for CCTV is in evidence throughout the country. In my experience of visiting numerous systems up and down the country, police are keen to work closely with local authority CCTV systems, providing access to Airwave police radios and databases, regular intelligence briefings and control room visits and even full-time officers based in the control room.
While it is essential to have officers on patrol, meeting local people and responding to incidents, bobbies on the beat can’t be everywhere and they can’t see around corners, whereas a CCTV operator will have access to numerous cameras and can jump from place to place to monitor an incident as it unfolds.
Local authorities must think carefully before they start cutting CCTV. What may look like an easy option to cut a line item from the budget may wind up costing them in terms of public support, money from the budget and crime on the streets.