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PCMA Birthday

The Public Space CCTV Managers Association’s recent Christmas lunch marked the group’s tenth anniversary.

Mark Rowe reports – but not on the birthday cake – it got scoffed over coffee!

The national CCTV strategy, as featured last issue, offers the prospect of some certainty, agreed standards and joined-up thinking between partners, for CCTV use. However, quite apart from the distance that partners have to travel, to make the strategy document reality, there are other obstacles facing public space CCTV, the meeting heard. The host council, Harborough district, is one that has trialled the 101 phone line to report non-emergency crimes, which has had the funding plug pulled by central government. Alan Paul, Community Safety and CCTV Manager at Harborough District, told Professional Security that the control room had been getting good data on anti-social behaviour, reported by the public. The district has one of the smaller systems around, but Lutterworth cameras previously monitored at that town’s police station will now go by broadband to the district control room.

Ian Cunningham of the Home Office, one of the authors of the CCTV strategy, was the first invited speaker. He described how the strategy’s programme board is expected to run a workshop shortly, to plan its terms of reference, including funding. Ian Cunningham said he was encouraged by the progress so far. He hinted that the strategy, being so ‘multi-agency’, will require lobbying of council chief executives and others to make the strategy’s 44 recommendations happen. Chris Platts, PCMA vice-chairman, of Kirklees Metropolitan Council, who is retiring, hoped that the strategy would get to grips with revenue funding – that is, money for the day to day running of CCTV: “That for me is something we have got to get cracked.” Ian Cunningham replied: “Funding is always going to be an issue; I don’t think there is going to be any new money as such.” A sign of how much ground the various strategy partners have to cover is that Martin Lazell, of the royal borough of Kingston upon Thames, told the meeting that at the strategy programme board launch he suggested that the National Policing Improvement Agency (one of the main players in the strategy) attend a future PCMA meeting.

One bugbear of council CCTV managers – getting a voice in the planning process – cropped up. Cath Bannister, of Mansfield, PCMA secretary, suggested getting the weekly planning applications sent to you, or collected off the internet, so CCTV can get a ‘foot in the door’ of the planning department – that is, comment on whether cameras should be included in any planning approval.

Cath Bannister raised police-level vetting of CCTV operators to satisfy screening standards over Airwave radios in control rooms. Table talk by managers later queried whether stricter vetting – stricter than the criminal record check required for the SIA’s CCTV operator licence – was right for an operator who might earn £6.40 an hour. Such staff might well fall behind for two or three months with mortgage payments, which would mean an operator fails the financial side of vetting, and hence fails the vetting. She reported that she put this point to Graeme Gerrard, of Cheshire Police, ACPO man and an author of the CCTV strategy. He suggested she attend an Airwave working group … which has however disbanded.

The meeting heard how North Wales Police have banned Airwave radios from local authority control rooms. (Some background: Denbighshire County Council’s new control room covering Rhyl and Prestatyn was officially opened – and hailed by North Wales Police – in April 2007.) Previously, police were able to talk direct to a control room thanks to Airwave, but the North Wales force is now claiming breach of licence, and security implications. Now, a control room like Denbighshire’s uses the retail radio to speak to an officer on the ground, described as ‘a total balls-up to be honest’. Colin Murphy, of Birmingham Community Safety Partnership, told the meeting likewise that West Midlands Police has ‘fundamental difficulty with sharing Airwave’. On a similar point, Ashley Russell, of Charnwood Council, newly moved to local authority CCTV from the police, spoke of vetting having a significant impact on staffing. A council control room in a police building falls under police contractor rules, so that an SIA-badged operator fails the higher vetting. Some police forces, he suggested, may be supportive of CCTV control rooms by risk-assessing such cases; some forces may not. The prospect was aired of a police officer on the way to an incident keeping in contact by mobile phone with CCTV control monitoring the scene – meaning the police control room loses control. In other words, forces that take the Airwave sets out may well put them back. Chris Platts observed: “I am amazed we are all supposedly trying wo work to the same end, and that is to make the community safer. We obviously cannot agree between ourselves and the police the best way of actually getting rid of some of the bureaucracy. We are just making the job needlessly more difficult.”

PCMA meeting dates for 2008

February, Mansfield; May, Birmingham; September, Manchester; December, Bradford.


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