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Rubbish CCTV - litter and the surveillance state - 29/6/2010

Bug Eyes - Braintree and Witham Times front page image
Braintree and Witham Times front page image

Braintree District Council wants to replace the slogan "Keep Britain Tidy" with "Keep Britain Surveilled", announcing their plans last week to waste local tax payers' money on using CCTV cameras to create "zero tolerance to litter" zones. A 22nd June Braintree council press release [1] reveals that:

As part of the council's new Green Heart of Essex campaign to improve the appearance of the district, the project - which could begin by late summer - will initially involve monitoring of Braintree and Halstead town centres using CCTV as an aid to assist patrols by the council's Street Wardens.

No mention here is made of the impact on appearance of plonking ugly surveillance cameras in town centres.

Essex local newspaper, the Braintree and Witham Times reported that: "Braintree council is thought to be a pioneer for the ground breaking project" [2]. In fact not only is the project itself not ground breaking, even the phrase "zero tolerance" was pinched from Middlesbrough's "robocop" Ray Mallon [3] who introduced zero tolerance policing before going on to become the Mayor of Middlesbrough and installing talking CCTV cameras to bark at people dropping sweet wrappers.

In 2007 it was revealed that as well as Middlesbrough, 19 other areas were also to get "Respect Task Force" funding for Talking CCTV to target litterbugs [4]. The areas announced were Southwark, Barking and Dagenham, Reading, Harlow, Norwich, Ipswich, Plymouth, Gloucester, Derby, Northampton, Mansfield, Nottingham, Coventry, Sandwell, Wirral, Blackpool, Salford, South Tyneside and Darlington. In January 2009 Sandwell council in West Bromwich announced their "Zero Tolerance on Litter" campaign, asking school children "to record messages which will be played to people caught on camera as they drop litter" [5].

Middlesbrough council has been using its talking CCTV cameras since 2006 [6] and in 2008 they asked local residents for their views on them. One of the questions they asked related to whether people thought CCTV helped reduce litter and fly tipping. Of the 509 people who answered the question 51% thought that CCTV had little or no impact at all on litter and fly tipping and a further 10.4% answered "Don't know" (see table below). [NB this is not to say surveys of this type give a true representation of people's opinions but merely to point out that even the council's own dodgy poll does not support their claims.]

Click to enlarge
Middlesbrough council's Voicover Questionnaire on CCTV, July 2008

In Braintree and Halstead they are using their existing CCTV cameras, which are are the 360 degree, tilt, pan and zoom variety rather than the talking type used in Middlesbrough, so control room staff will have to radio litter wardens to spring into action if they spot a littering violation. Reassurance as to the way the cameras will be operated was supplied by local CCTV poster girl Jackie Pell, chairman of the Halstead crime prevention panel (who lobbied to get CCTV installed [7]), who pointed out that respecting human rights is as simple as rolling out a worn out platitude. She told the Braintree and Whitham Times:

Dropping litter is a crime and someone has to pay to have it cleared up. At the same time, we have to be mindful of people's human rights. If they aren't doing anything wrong, they have nothing to fear.

That's Human Rights dealt with then.

Halstead's CCTV cameras were only switched on on 18th June [8] after years of lobbying by local police and the crime prevention panel - for example local councilors were told that the surveillance cameras act as a crime deterrant at a March 2004 meeting of the Mid Essex Area Forum [9]. The minutes note that:

On a question relating to the role of CCTV and its cost-effectiveness, the Forum were advised that CCTV is highly cost-effective, and is a powerful tool, acting as a deterrent and a means of gathering information and intelligence.

This claim was not backed up by any evidence - probably because there is none - all major studies of surveillance cameras have shown that the numbers just don't stack up. The Campbell collaboration evaluation of CCTV in 2008 [10], funded by the Home Office and the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA), looked at 41 evaluations of surveillance cameras and found that they "did not have a significant effect on crime". Hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers money wasted on a technology that has no significant effect! The people of Britain traded their freedoms for nothing, though many still don't understand that this is what has happened. Now supporters of CCTV are looking for new uses for the cameras like tackling so-called anti-social behaviour and littering - in the hope that they can claim that the cameras are a "vital tool".

How can sitting behind a screen watching video surveillance images of people going about their daily life, rather than actually going out on the streets and interacting with people, possibly tackle litter, or any problem for that matter? The rhetoric used to justify such measures depends on creating an atmosphere of "them" (the litter bugs) and "us" (the perfect people) - which serves to erode any sense of neighbourhood or community. Is encouraging people to leave it to the faceless CCTV operator, who can radio a litter enforcement officer to apprehend the litter offender and issue a fine really the best way to tackle littering?

In 2009 the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) teamed up with Policy Exchange to publish a report entitled 'Litterbugs' [11] which looked at the litter problem in Britain and made recommendations on how best to tackle the issue.

The report suggests measures such as "The provision of bins and ashtrays in strategic sites", "Taking account of litter and littering behaviour in the design of our public spaces" and "The development of a permanent educational campaign with a consistent message to target littering".The report demonstrates that the carrot is often better than the stick when it comes to tackling litter. For example it details how a deposit scheme on drink bottles and cans has had an enormous effect in other countries, page nine of the report states:

In the United States, New York State has developed a successful anti-littering strategy based on a deposit scheme that since 1983 has reduced container litter by 80% and roadside litter by 70%. By rewarding people for not dropping litter and encouraging people to pick it up, the scheme has helped to create a virtuous cycle of desirable behaviour.

Introducing the report, writer Bill Bryson says:

bottle deposit schemes are working well in New York State, slashing litter levels and boosting recycling. Another ten or so US states operate similar systems, as do South Australia and European countries such as Germany, Denmark and Sweden. All report significantly increased recycling rates. Surely a no-brainer, then, to introduce a similar system in the UK

However when it comes to CCTV and litter, Braintree council has shown a distinct lack of grey matter.



Braintree council is seeking the views of local people on this initiative - residents can give their views by emailing: greenheart@braintree.gov.uk or calling customer services on: 01376 552525 or via an online poll at: www.braintree.gov.uk.

Endnotes:


Posted in Anti-CCTV general - 29/6/2010

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