“CCTV is vital to stopping crime”. That’s the well-worn and often repeated line that is trotted out in defence of the millions of surveillance cameras that now monitor our public spaces. Increasingly though it seems that those in charge of them may be coming to a very different view.
On Wednesday Westminster Council announced that it was considering scrapping its fixed CCTV camera network to help cope with the amount of savings it is being forced to make. The Council justified the move by arguing that that there is only “limited evidence” to suggest that fixed CCTV cameras actually do deter criminals.
This announcement follows in the footsteps of similar decisions by other councils, last month it was revealed that cameras in Newbury town centre had been switched off after West Berkshire Council voted to stop its funding. In March Havant Council produced a report into its use of CCTV. The study recommended that the cameras should be scrapped as they were no longer fulfilling the purpose they had been installed for.
These moves follow a wider trend identified in our report on the subject. Are they still watching? found that the number of cameras controlled by local authorities as well as the amount that is being spent on them has fallen dramatically when compared to a similar report published in 2012.
Whilst it is heartening to see more and more councils begin to properly question what benefits they are getting out of CCTV cameras its must be remembered that this may just be a lull before a wave on new surveillance technology hits our streets. High definition cameras will offer enhanced opportunities for facial recognition whilst so called tag and track systems allow individuals to be identified and tracked with cameras alerting operators whenever the target appears.
Westminster Council’s cabinet will decide whether or not to scrap the cameras on Monday.