UK

Surveillance commissioner warns councils 'turning off CCTV'

Security cameras
Image caption The UK has one of the largest number of CCTV cameras in the world

Councils in England and Wales are turning off CCTV cameras in an attempt to cut costs, a surveillance watchdog has warned.

Tony Porter, the surveillance camera commissioner, said switching off cameras would mean the police would find it harder to detect crime.

He told the BBC the situation was a "concern" and blamed the government's austerity cuts "sweeping the country".

He is due to present his findings to the government in the autumn.

Mr Porter, who is the commissioner for England and Wales, said budget cuts had led councils to decide to spend less on public space CCTV, meaning there was less money for staff training, poorer understanding of legal issues and a reduced service.

He told BBC Radio Four's Today programme that councils did not have an "absolute right" to monitor a community so it had to be done "in a way that generates trust".

"If there are going to be training and compliance issues, that trust will be damaged," he said.

In a separate interview with the Independent, Mr Porter said: "There are an increasing number of examples where councils and employees are citing a lack of money as being the rationale to reduce the service or completely change its composition - and that does concern me.

"Because CCTV isn't a statutory function, it is something a lot of councils are looking at.

"Most people recognise the utility of CCTV for supporting law enforcement. To degrade the capacity may have an impact on police. It may well be that they will find it increasingly difficult to acquire the images that will help them investigate crimes.

"I do think public authorities should be held to greater account."

The UK has one of the largest number of CCTV cameras in the world. The British Security Industry Association (BSIA) estimates there are between 4 and 5.9 million cameras, with around one in 70 publicly owned.

He said councils could face greater scrutiny of their use of CCTV, including potential inspections and enforcement.

Mr Porter, who has been in his post for just over a year, has written to council chief executives to remind them of the law and code of practice.

Image caption Blackpool authorities are said to have stopped monitoring CCTV round the clock

In a speech to the CCTV User Group conference this week, he warned of misuse of cameras in some local authority areas.

He said: "I've seen councils in large towns like Blackpool and Derby stop monitoring their systems 24-7. My understanding is that this is not as the result of a review or public consultation but simply to save money.

"And as austerity measures continue to bite on public space CCTV will we see a deterioration of standards and training?"

A government spokesman said the "majority" of local authorities have continued to balance their budgets, and increased or maintained public satisfaction with services.

He also pointed out that falling crime figures in the independent Crime Survey for England and Wales meant that people and communities were the safest they had been since the survey began in 1981.

CCTV provision should be decided by elected local councillors, reflecting local circumstances and residents' views, especially concerns about crime, he added.

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