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City council pulls the plug on mayor’s promise of greater CCTV surveillance

Robert Doyle’s campaign pledge for more public security cameras in Melbourne looks to have been sunk by a reluctant city council.

Words by Chris Shearer
 

The re-elected lord mayor had promised a further 10 closed-circuit TV cameras, in addition to the 53 fixed cameras and two mobile surveillance vehicles currently in action.

But a rethink of the cameras’ effectiveness within council ranks appears to have placed the plan in doubt.

First signs that the camera proposal had stalled appeared in February when the council decided against putting cameras in two city lanes — Hosier Lane and Rutledge Lane — after consultations with local street artists.

Instead, the council voted to improve lighting and patrols of the popular street-art district, as well as hold exhibitions, workshops and youth engagement programs. The new projects are expected to cost around $136,000 over the course of a year.

Mr Doyle said the street art community would provide “passive peer surveillance” of the lanes, but the effectiveness of these initiatives would be reviewed after 12 months. He described the situation as “so far, so good”.

CCTV cameras had also been slated for the corner of Melrose and Canning Streets in North Melbourne and the pedestrian walkway between Southern Cross Station and Etihad Stadium, with other cityhotspots” also considered.

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Mr Doyle added: I am absolutely a firm believer in the role of CCTV in not just the evidentiary process but also in the prevention of crime”. However, the Lord Mayor would not be drawn on the question of the remaining cameras when interviewed by The Citizen. “We will work with police on that,” he said. “It’s a budget issue.”

He pointed to a council report that documented 1330 cases of arrests made by police thanks to the city’s CCTV network. “For me, it’s an open-ended thing.”

Earlier, a spokesperson for the council confirmed that there were currently no plans to increase the number of council-operated cameras in the city.

Until now, there had been no formal announcement regarding the remaining eight cameras although it had been reported that some councillors were concerned about the city’s heavy reliance on CCTV.

Councillor Richard Foster, whose people-city portfolio covers CBD public safety, told The Citizen there was no actual evidence that Melbourne’s CCTV network had substantially reduced crime rates.

He said the initiatives in Hosier lane had created a “healthy curiosity around the issue” and that there was an “appetite to consider other alternatives”.

When asked if he believed the plan to roll out more cameras in the CBD was effectively dead, he replied: “Certainly for the moment, it is.”

“We have the in-principle agreement that people aren’t enthusiastic about rolling out more until they see the outcome of the trial in Hosier Lane,” Cr Foster said.

Should the trial not meet council expectations, there were “still other alternatives out there”.

I am absolutely a firm believer in the role of CCTV in not just the evidentiary process but also in the prevention of crime”. — Lord Mayor Robert Doyle.

“CCTV hasn’t been shown to be what it was painted up to be. So there’s no point in going back to what is essentially a failed policy.”

A spokesman for the Victims of Crime Support Association, Noel McNamara, said he was “extremely disappointed” that more cameras were unlikely to be installed soon.

He said the Lord Mayor had contacted him during the election to shore up support for the policy and had nominated Flinders Lane, Little Collins Street and Little Bourke Street as potential sites for new surveillance cameras.

Mr McNamara said the wider use of CCTV in the city would help reduce crime. The community’s acceptance of such systems had been enhanced by the Jill Meagher murder case in which images captured by a shop’s CCTV camera were critical in helping to catch her killer. 

“If we haven’t got the police in the streets then at least we have some sort of way to identify the people who commit these crimes and put them where they belong,” he said.

But Liberty Victoria vice-president, Anne O’Rourke, argued that the wider use of cameras in public spaces was “over-hyped” as a tool of law and order.

Click here to see a map of CCTV camera locations in Melbourne’s CBD. 

“There’s already thousands of them in Victoria as it is, and unless you argue that you want them everywhere and there’s absolutely nowhere that isn’t covered by them, you end up with a ‘Big Brother’ society.”

She said studies by the Australian Institute of Criminology and the Sydney Institute of Criminology had found that evidence supporting CCTV as crime prevention tools was “at best, ambiguous” and often simply resulted in criminals going where there were no cameras.

“That’s the problem — particularly when you should use proper policing and proper sort of policy issues to look at the cause of the crime,” Ms O’Rourke said.

“If you’re only going to use technology that moves it onto another place then it’s not really dealing with the issue.” 

Melbourne’s camera locations are marked by either signs or pavement plaques. CCTV footage is monitored 24 hours-a-day by staff who can notify police as soon as incidents occur. Recorded footage is deleted 28 days after being recorded. The program costs the council around $1 million a year.

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THE CITIZEN is a publication of the Centre for Advancing Journalism. It has several aims. Foremost, it is a teaching tool that showcases the work of the students in the University of Melbourne’s Master of Journalism and Master of International Journalism programs, giving them real-world experience in working for publication and to deadline. Find out more →

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