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Councils scaling back CCTV coverage

Published 23/05/2015

A surveillance watchdog has voiced fears about councils cutting back on CCTV camera use
A surveillance watchdog has voiced fears about councils cutting back on CCTV camera use

Councils are scaling back on the use of CCTV cameras in an attempt to cut costs, a surveillance watchdog has warned.

Tony Porter, the surveillance camera commissioner, said he was concerned about local authorities cutting back on monitoring cameras because it could make it more difficult for police to detect and investigate crime.

He added town halls could face greater scrutiny of their use of CCTV, including potential inspections and enforcement.

He told the Independent: "There are an increasing number of examples where councils and employees are citing a lack of money as being the rationale to reduce the service or completely change its composition - and that does concern me. Because CCTV isn't a statutory function, it is something a lot of councils are looking at.

"Most people recognise the utility of CCTV for supporting law enforcement. To degrade the capacity may have an impact on police. It may well be that they will find it increasingly difficult to acquire the images that will help them investigate crimes.

"I do think public authorities should be held to greater account. If that is some form of inspection and enforcement notice. I think that can be achieved with a fairly light touch."

Mr Porter, who is due to give the findings of a review into standards to the Home Secretary this autumn, has written to council chief executives to remind them of the law and code of practice.

In a speech to the CCTV User Group conference this week, he warned of misuse of CCTV in some authority areas.

He told the conference: "I've seen councils in large towns like Blackpool and Derby stop monitoring their systems 24-7. My understanding is that this is not as the result of a review or public consultation but simply to save money.

"And as austerity measures continue to bite on public space CCTV will we see a deterioration of standards and training? One CCTV manager has told me financial constraints are leading local authorities to take measures that are threatening the levels of CCTV expertise within them.

"CCTV managers' roles are being cut and supervisors with little or no knowledge of CCTV are being left to report to senior managers. This is a worrying situation.

"I am also concerned about the level of knowledge that local authorities have about the totality of public space surveillance cameras controlled by their organisation. And if they are all code compliant.

"I am sure that most town centre public space CCTV is in line with the code or fairly close. But I recently asked a large city centre council to do a survey of all public space surveillance cameras within it. What has come back is quite shocking but not unexpected."

Among the breaches, he cited that cameras were being used by other departments, including traffic, waste management and housing services, while privacy assessments were also not being routinely carried out.

The British Security Industry Authority has estimated there are up to six million CCTV cameras, with around one in 70 publicly owned.

A Government spokesman said: "Public safety is paramount and the majority of local authorities have continued to balance their budgets and increased or maintained public satisfaction with services.

"Crime has fallen by more than a quarter since 2010, according to the independent Crime Survey for England and Wales. This means citizens and communities are safer than at any point since the survey began in 1981.

"Decisions on CCTV provision should be a local decision by elected local councillors, reflecting local circumstances and the views of local residents - especially in relation to any concerns about crime."

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