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CCTV has an important role to play in keeping communities safe

This week Alison Hernandez talks about the benefits of CCTV and the CCTV investment strategy published in February.

The use of closed circuit television cameras in our towns and cities remains a controversial one. It is claimed that UK citizens are the World’s most photographed – Londoners are apparently photographed up to 300 times a day and many civil liberty organisations are concerned that this mass roll-out of surveillance has been done so without consultation.

Camera coverage in Devon and Cornwall is not so extensive but even so, as the public’s representative for policing, I can understand these concerns.

So I have thought hard about the pros and cons of supporting the implementation of new CCTV projects. Shortly after being elected I quickly became aware of the amount of correspondence we received about CCTV, either from local authorities or from businesses asking for help in developing effective systems to make communities feel safer.

The challenges towns face – in particular the complex rules and regulations that must be followed and the costs of monitoring a small system – can be real barriers. Systems can be expensive to set up and maintain and technological advances mean they can quickly become out of date. The systems also need monitoring if they are to be truly effective as there is nothing more frustrating to us all when an incident occurs where CCTV is in place and no-one was watching to help.

I felt it was really important to investigate what I could do, as the public’s representative, to support local areas. In particular, to pull together the different parties  – local authorities, police, businesses and other blue light services – and to support the establishment of modern, cost-effective, sustainable CCTV systems.

From my mailbag it seemed clear that most writers supported CCTV because it offers such a deterrent to those thinking of breaking the law. So we started to look at how we could bring areas and organisations together to share those challenges and reduce the cost for everyone. The benefits, particularly for operational policing, quickly became clear.

CCTV systems provide high quality visual images which meet our court requirements of evidence. These pictures are very often the most important evidence presented to a court, are key to a prosecution and often lead to an early guilty plea – thus preventing victims from needing to give evidence.

The second key area to benefit is safeguarding. Where effective CCTV systems operate we know that many people are reassured those places are safe to visit, particularly at night. The same goes for police officers, many who are now deployed to incidents alone without support from a colleague.

The systems also have a key role to play in locating lost children, individuals with mental health problems, elderly people who may have gone missing and those who have been drinking with friends and have become detached from them.

And last, but by no means least, CCTV has a key role to play in safeguarding those who work or volunteer in town centres during the night-time economy. As well as police officers, PCSOs, street pastors/marshalls, health workers/volunteers, fire and ambulance crews, door staff, bar staff and workers in food outlets are all safer where a good CCTV system is in operation.

So, given that a key priority in my police and crime plan is to support and enable our communities to keep themselves safe, I concluded that CCTV has an important role to play and I am delighted to say we are already working with many partners to help improve systems throughout Devon and Cornwall. My CCTV Investment Strategy, published in February, made over £200,000 available across the two counties to support improvements to the infrastructure and I am looking to working with councils, businesses and wider partners to help unlock wider funding sources.

Led by my team we have a project running to support the development of a small number of hubs in Devon and Cornwall and to help towns connect into them. We launched an expressions of interest exercise earlier this year and received over 50 responses. The team is now working with all of those who have expressed an interest to better understand their needs and see how we may be able to help.

The creation of centralised control rooms which will monitor a number of CCTV systems and link in with the police will make high quality CCTV a much more realistic prospect for smaller towns. Such a model also offers wider benefits – in particular the opportunity to ‘connect’ into police control rooms and in the future the possibility of live streaming of CCTV  footage to hand-held devices to aid searches for offenders or vulnerable people.

So is your town connecting to my CCTV initiative? So far in Devon there has been interest from Torbay, Exeter, North Devon, Torridge, Sidmouth, Exmouth, Newton Abbot, Dawlish , Honiton, Okehampton, Cullompton, Tiverton, Kingsbridge, Teignmouth, Ilfracombe, Bideford, Barnstaple, Axminster, Crediton, Bradninch, Bovey Tracey and Salcombe.

If where you live isn’t mentioned above then contact your local councillor and ask why.

Alison Hernandez