Ipswich: Division over two decades of CCTV
12:53 04 January 2013
Big Brother has been watching you for nearly two decades.
And now, 20 years after the first blueprints were tabled, with the first cameras being installed across the town 12 months later, Ipswich Borough Council are celebrating the success of closed-circuit television (CCTV).
CCTV is one of a number of tools the council use in crime prevention and community safety, proving effective in detecting crime and helping people feel safer when they are out and about.
A total of 3,642 incidents were recorded between April 2011 and March 2012, leading to 708 arrests – an average of 304 incidents and 59 arrests per month.
The cameras also help locate missing people and monitor football crowds and road traffic accidents.
In the 2012 Community Safety Survey, out of 14 factors given, CCTV was rated the second most important factor in making people feel safer, after street lighting.
There are 12 full-time staff involved in the operation and monitoring of the cameras, with at least two of these controllers on shift.
During busy hours such as Friday and Saturday evenings a police officer from the Night-Time Economy Team assists in detecting and reporting crime, liaising with officers on the ground.
Council deputy leader Neil Macdonald said: “Our CCTV operation has proved itself in acting both as a deterrent to crime and as a reassurance to residents.
“But the cameras, which are operated 365 days a year by our dedicated team, are also used to spot accidents, find missing people and act as a help point to the public.
“Our CCTV cameras are helping us to make Ipswich safer.”
When the CCTV control room launched in 1994 – a year after plans had first been discussed following successful national trials in Newcastle and King’s Lynn – there were 46 cameras positioned in the town centre.
Today there are 223 cameras, 13 of which are mobile CCTV cameras which the council use to monitor any ‘hot spot’ areas of crime and disorder in the town.
The cameras are connected to the control room, known as the Emergency Services Centre, at Grafton House, where they are recorded 24 hours a day, seven days a week and monitored by at least two council employees.
Of the 172 cameras monitored in the control room, 24 are on display at any one time.
One of the emergency service controllers, who declined to be named, said: “We have the best view of the town, and record a wide range of incidents from criminal activity to people who need help.
“We get a tremendous amount of job satisfaction.”
The control room has airwaves radios, which enable them to contact police on the ground and to monitor all that is happening to enable proactive CCTV monitoring to take place.
The control room also has access to the Townlink scheme, which is connected to the police, street rangers, town pastors and pubs and clubs within the town.
Meanwhile, Nick Pickles, director of privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch, said: “It says a great deal about how reliant on CCTV councils are now that Ipswich is celebrating the anniversary of installing some video cameras.
“The council doesn’t publish statistics on how many people are convicted, while millions of pounds have been spent on cameras despite numerous studies pointing out they no longer deter criminals and are rarely able to catch them.
“Ipswich is like countless towns and cities across a Britain, where CCTV has become a substitute for police officers and effective law enforcement.
“They are lazy shortcuts that don’t address the underlying reasons for crime happening in the first place. The objective is to prevent crime.
“The scale of the use of CCTV is a moral issue. There is a loss of privacy.
“You’re not supposed to be put under surveillance until you have done something wrong, but people half a mile away have no idea they are being watched.
“I think it’s the Big Brother scenario playing at large.
“The next generation of cameras are going to be very high quality.
“They will target adverts at the public and will have facial recognition technology – identifying you from half a mile away.
“They will be very hard to regulate in the near future.”