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Case Studies

Public space CCTV case study: Rotherham

A fear was during local government austerity of the 2010s that public space video surveillance – not being a legal duty upon councils – might get downgraded or switched off altogether. With some exceptions, that has not happened. What has become plain – and another example will be featured in the June print edition of Professional Security magazine – is that councils need to do more than just upgrade their equipment, which in some cases still dates from the last period of big spending on CCTV, around the turn of the millennium. Councils can do more, thanks to the vast improvements in tech since then; but one thing they can do is address the more or less inevitable mushrooming of systems across council departments and sites, which may not only be inefficient but might cause data protection compliance problems.

In April 2021 The Safer Streets Fund from the Home Office has been the first concerted central government money for council CCTV since the early 2000s; Rotherham Council got £80,500 from the second round of the Fund, in April 2021, covering 26 re-deployable CCTV cameras plus 20 adaptors for use on old style concrete lamp posts in the Wath and Swinton districts of the town; and anti-burglary Smartwater forensic marking products. In the third round of the Fund – angled towards women’s safety, as the Home Office sought to respond to widespread outrage after the murder of Sarah Everard – the council was successful again, and got £110,000 to go in Clifton Park through £95,000 on more lighting and £15,200 to purchase 15 cameras for deployment at five locations in the park.

Likewise, late last year the council found money for Rosehill/Victoria Park CCTV; for 29 fixed wireless static dome cameras and pan, tilt and zooms; and an ANPR camera to capture vehicle number plates used in the park.

Meanwhile the Wharncliffe flats CCTV system is being upgraded, to combat ‘drug use and dealing, knife crime and fly-tipping’, as an outdated system there was ‘not up to standard for the level of evidence needed’ and had some blind spots. Also renewed, a CCTV system at Victoria Street, Masborough, that council officers found to be ‘inoperable’.

A report to councillors on the ‘Improving places select commission‘ described CCTV as a tool that, as well as capturing images of offences and offenders, also deters crime, ASB and fly tipping. “CCTV has proven to be very useful, successfully contributing to both police and council investigations. Indeed, CCTV images have been key to successful fly-tipping prosecutions, including two custodial sentences,” the report stated. Another example of how CCTV is in use to tackle crime and related community quality of life issues is in Eastwood, ‘in relation to constant power cuts’; a joint South Yorkshire Police and council operation identified the outages were due to ‘a number of cannabis cultivations’ (the illegal ‘farms’ are big users of electricity to keep the plants warm). The council deployed eight new re-deployable cameras that had remote access for police and council officers to live-watch, on iPads.

This sheer variety of use of CCTV by Rotherham, as in other councils, has meant a mix of systems – in council buildings; a fixed ‘mainframe’ system, which feeds into a police-monitored control room in Doncaster, re-deployable cameras to tackle ASB (anti-social behaviour), and (battery-powered) re-deployables used against fly-tipping, often out of town (as pictured; photo courtesy of Rotherham Council).

As a sign of the worth of CCTV and the quality of recordings, in a recent case of fly-tipping, an accused man claimed that the van he was driving on hire at the time of the incident had been cloned. Investigators managed to counter this claim by matching a distinctive dent near the headlight of the van pictured at the crime scene, with the same dent on the van on hire to the accused. He duly pleaded guilty when he appeared before Sheffield magistrates and was fined (case details on the Rotherham Council website).

As a sign of quite how difficult it can be to keep track of all that’s in use, Rotherham Council has 98 fixed camera units within the mainframe system; a further 372 units on secondary systems on council buildings; and 97 re-deployables. The council proposes to allocate further capital funding for the 2022/23 financial year of £250,000, ‘to further enhance the capacity of the system, by adding more CCTV cameras’, and going digital.

The mix of uses is mirrored by contractural arrangements with installers notably for maintenance servicing and repair, as the report to councillors acknowledged: such contracts and agreements are ‘not consistent across the council’s assets and in some areas, such as re-deployable cameras, this means replacements cannot be provided whilst they are taken for repairs’. The report proposed that with the upgrades, contractual arrangements for maintenance and repair will be reviewed.


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