Friday 20 June 2008

CCTV is not the answer

I blogged about this subject last December after returning from a meeting with the Mayor of Wellington, Kerry Prendergast, and her Council's Safe City officer.

Kerry told me, with great delight, that they ditched almost all their expensive city cameras, along with the millions to monitor them and a team of donut-eating staff.

She was very proud that two years ago, the Kiwi capital was designated a World Health Organization Safe Community, at the time, the only capital city of any country to be recognised.

In New Zealand, the city Council collaborates with the Accident Compensation Corporation, Capital & Coast District Health Board, and the Police.

Following Byrne's penchant for filming every nook and cranny, this Council is hell bent on following like a lame duck and not turning the whole safety issue on it's head.

You don't have to be a rocket scientist to read between the lines of Qantas CEO's warning that Cairns is becoming less an attractive proposition for international visitors.

Barry Neall, a Yorkeys Knob resident, started Residents Against Crime at the height of the Council election campaign. I helped him set up a blog, so he could record events and media reports of violent crime in the city. Barry was, and still is, fed up with a spiralling pattern. He sees little strategic plan from our city leaders.

The Resident's Against Crime group, which has already held a public meeting, aims to record all crimes and sentences in and around Cairns, hoping that it will assist in making the government change some of its policies in regards to the sentencing laws and force Magistrates and Judges to hand out sentences that fit the crime.

Barry says Residents Against Crime is...

  • Dedicated to help prevent crimes in Cairns and the surrounding area.

    This city has unfortunately gone from bad to worse in regards to crime and we the residents of this great city need to band together and put pressure on our local representatives and let them know that we will not tolerate this behaviour.

    I will continue to pave the way for better living in peace and enable families and kids to enjoy the life the we enjoyed years ago without the fear of being assaulted.

    This is not about me its about the community working together to make this a better place to live.

They, like myself, advocate that prevention is the cure. Barry is asking for more law enforcement on the streets; quicker identification of habitual criminals; faster prosecution of violent crimes; fewer plea bargains; better analysis of bail setting; a safer environment for Cairns. He also says that citizens should be the second eyes for police.

The new Mayor-in-waiting, Councillor Alan Blank [sic], was recently questioned on his new regular McKenzine 846 radio spot. Macca was discussing the whole law and order thing, as he does.

"How many closed circuit TV cameras do we have Alan?" the grand old lady of Cairns talkback demanded.

"Well, there's... oh, about, I think we have around 30 or so," muddled along Blakie.

You would think, after all these years as a Councillor, all the way along approving expenditure for such monstrosities, that he could have plucked that number out of the air, especially when he knew Macca was going to quiz him about all things violence and the Council's strategies for same.

Well, there isn't 30 CCTV's. Try double that, and some. There were 19 CCTV cameras in Cairns in 2000, which rose to 41 in 2004, and now we have around 60 cameras dotted around the city today. Council are putting up another 15 around the town over the next few months. Amazing.

In Brisbane, with a population of 1.8 million, there are only 16 CCTV in the city. Wellington, population nearly half a mill: 1 camera. That's right. One. However they have a squard of community engagement staff in bright yellow vests walking the streets.

It's interesting that a council report just released says that there's been a reduction in reported crime, however the perception of feeling safe in Cairns, especially in the CBD is the lowest it's been for years. Just of 50% said they feel safe, who also indicated there should be more foot patrols. Hello?!

Cameras may certainly assist, however they are not the solution. They are a lazy policeman at best. I don't have a problem with them outside nite clubs, especially that dodgy Woolshed, oh, and Villa Romana. I mean, you never know what they will construct in the dark of the night.

However, nothing replacing the confidence of having an informed and trained team of, what I would call, Community Safety Officers on the city beat. As Council staff, they could would in conjunction with the local constabulary. These 'officers' would not only operate in the wee small hours. They can also perform helpful duties during the day, to help assist visitors and act as ambassadors for Cairns.

The model that the city of Wellington employed was to ensure these specially trained folk were to be the eyes and ears out there on the streets. They'd know the trouble spots and the places where people often felt unsafe.

We seem to have lost the plot when we simply think that throwing money at electronic surveillance is the answer to all our woes.

In October this year, the International Safe Communities Conference will be held in Christchurch, just across the ditch. This is a perfect time, and a affordable location for some officials and councillors from Cairns to attend.

This is a WHO-backed conference which aims to strengthen community safety as an integral part of injury, health, crime, and violence policies, research & programmes. One of the problems often, is that different organisation don't have much synergies, nor have they fostered partnerships.

The Safe Communities Foundation New Zealand and Christchurch City Council are hosting the event. I hope that those Councillors that have a genuine interest in this important subject will attend. You should contact Robyn Steel or Safe Communities.

I recall it was only late last year when an arrest and court appearance was the result of trawling through CCTV footage by a vigilant Council staffer. And what dastardly crime was committed to protect us all from this nasty crim? He was captured having a pee over the wharf behind the Pier Bar, in the wee hours of the morning. Well, it was the 'wee' hours, after all.

This lad was a tourist, and he was fined. I wonder how many people he told about this in his homeland, who subsequently decided to write Cairns off their itinerary for the future.

What a effing waste of Council, court and police time! Is this the kind of policing our new Council thinks will help strengthen our city's reputation as a world-class destination? No. Not one bit.

It will take bold visionary leadership, for at least one Councillor (or Mayor) to lead, promote and drive in such change.

I sincerely question if there is a will or even a capability within the current crop. I hope they prove me wrong.

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