Well, there may have been limited consultation before the (218 overt, 72 covert) ‘Project Champion’ cameras were put up, but everyone’s falling over themselves to want to talk about it now. Tonight sees a meeting at the Bordesley Centre called by the Chairman of the Police Authority, and entitled ‘Trust and Confidence in Policing’, the Police Authority itself is being investigated by Thames Valley Police (with regards to its role in commissioning the project), and lawyers at Liberty are no doubt busy preparing their case supporting their call for a judicial review.
And today the city council has kicked off an Overview and Scrutiny review which will attempt to answer the question: ‘Is the installation of large numbers of CCTV and ANPR cameras concentrated in specific areas beneficial and justifiable?’ It intends to do this within twelve weeks, after which it will report to the city council, and make recommendations to the Safer Birmingham Partnership….which, as it happens, is in the midst of conducting its own review.
The council O&S committee has certainly got its work cut out, especially as it intends to consider imponderables such as the ‘what are the moral concerns of the local authority, residents and police’ with regards to CCTV. Of all the ‘facts’, however, around surveillance cameras – the UK is one of the most watched nations in the world, the technology doesn’t eliminate crime, it merely displaces it – the review might also want to consider a 1992 Home Office report, which confirmed what we probably all instinctively know about the importance of keeping residents involved when we want to spy on them. The survey’s not exactly recent, but, given the proliferation of cameras over the last 18 years, I bet we would hear even stronger views today. If we dared asked the questions, that is.
The majority of people, it found, felt that the government shouldn’t be allowed to make decisions permitting the installation of CCTV in public places. Nearly three quarters felt that ‘these cameras could easily be abused and used by the wrong people’ and a significant number felt that ‘in the future these cameras could be used to control people’. Further, that the people in control of these systems could not be ‘completely trusted to use them only for the public good‘. Telling councillors (as I understand it) that the primary purpose of the Sparkbrook cameras was to reduce crime and disorder, when the funding was coming entirely from the terrorism and allied matters division of the Association of Chief Police Officers, was clearly not the way to keep a sceptical public on side.