Three CCTV cameras have been installed on the Cowley Road, East Oxford. The surveillance cameras were officially switched on at a launch event which was simply an opportunity for supporters of state surveillance to gloat and serve up propaganda to local media. Traders, landlords, the police, local MP Andrew Smith and Labour Councillor Malik were on hand to tell reporters that the cameras will make the world a better place.
Andrew Smith told reporters that he had surveyed residents and they were three to one in favour of cameras along the Cowley Road. No CCTV discredited Smith's so called survey back in November of 2007 (see the No CCTV report on the scheme).
The letter that accompanied Smith's questionnaire said: "CCTV cameras have substantially assisted the police in reducing crime and disorder in the city centre, and it is clear that extending the system along Cowley Road would carry great benefits". Asking people whether they want CCTV after setting a frame of reference that states CCTV is an effective tool is called 'skewed contextualising' and this has been detailed by Jason Ditton of the Scottish Centre for Criminology. This alone discredits Smith's questionnaire.
Smith also said in the letter that there were 35 clubs and bars on the Cowley Road. In fact at the time he wrote there were 6 pubs, 29 restaurants/cafés, 19 takeaways and a music venue. His "survey" had no sampling criteria - his sample was primarily self selecting and we have no way of knowing who actually completed the questionnaires.
It is distressing that Smith is allowed to misrepresent local residents with impunity.
Jan Bartlett of Premier Letting agency, who the Oxford Mail have trotted out on a regular basis to sell CCTV to Oxford residents, was wetting her pants with joy at the introduction of the privacy busting paraphernalia at the tax payers expense. It was interesting that most if not all of the traders and landlords attending the launch to big up CCTV were not local residents. Is it fair that local tax payers fund cameras for local traders who mistakenly believe that it will protect their property?
The decision whether or not to install cameras was surreptitiously taken away from the East Area Parliament back in April and given to the Oxford Safer Communities partnership, a quango set up under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. Taking the decision away from any open and democratic arena was a sneaky way to hamper our campaign against the cameras. We did however achieve something nonetheless as the original plan that we campaigned against was for eight fixed cameras along the Cowley Road - the scheme is now three wireless cameras installed for a two year trial.
We will continue to oppose the cameras and must ensure that the trial is conducted even handedly. If it is, then it will show that CCTV has no effect on reducing crime and should be taken down. We must also continue to educate the public as to both the dangers and ineffectiveness of blanket surveillance. We must not allow the installation of these cameras to go unchallenged, otherwise the police will simply seek to install more.