CCTV system needs to be assessed

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  • Photo by Glenn Tucker 
Lynne Winfield of CURB

    Photo by Glenn Tucker Lynne Winfield of CURB

In October an article appeared in The Royal Gazette entitled ‘Coming Soon: Island-Wide CCTV’, wherein we were told that tenders had been requested to submit bids for the "implementation, maintenance and monitoring of a mesh network system of CCTV cameras and digital video records for coverage across the Island".

The then Minister Wayne Perinchief stated: "Public safety is a cornerstone of confidence in Bermuda and the implementation of this intended system will further strengthen the administration of justice and demonstrates this Government's commitment to providing our Police Service with the tools to do the job of keeping communities safe."

The One Bermuda Alliance quickly followed saying they supported the initiative "to the hilt" and "It will give the police another valuable tool for use in their fight against crime, it will make life safer for those who live in areas that criminals like to frequent and, in the long run, it will make everybody safer and more secure".

On the surface it appears that this is best for us all, and has bipartisan support. But once again we are moving ahead with policies without evaluating them for potential problems. CURB has previously written about the need for Equality Impact Assessments on any policies or legislation proposed that could end up disenfranchising one segment of the community over the other. An Equality Impact Assessment would work just like an Environmental Impact Assessment, ensuring no undue stress or imbalance is caused to one segment of a community over another.

Another example of a failure to evaluate impact of legislation ahead of implementation is Section 315F Amendment to the Criminal Code in 2005 that allowed for stop and searches to be carried out by the Bermuda Police Service without probable cause, which lead to huge increases in stop and searches in 2011, the majority of which focused on innocent black Bermudians. It is not that these negative outcomes were intended or anticipated, however it is the negative unintended consequences of legislation/policies that Equality Impact Assessments are there to prevent.

So what is it about the new CCTV proposal that is so worrying?

Research has shown that crime prevention strategies such as CCTV can have negative consequences such as spatial crime displacement and decrease in public trust in Government (Ratcliffe 2006). As Bermudians know, if you move people off the wall from one area … they simply move to another. So are you really affecting/decreasing crime by placing CCTVs across the Island? Or are you simply moving it to another location? Stakeholders believe that CCTV has positive effects and acts as a deterrent, however, research shows that it merely displaces or moves crime, rather than acts as a crime deterrent, and overall crime is not reduced (Baron 2011).

The goal of the new CCTV system is crime prevention/reduction, however research has shown that CCTV has not been proven to prevent crime, especially expressive crimes (violence/damage) ie Wells & Farrington's 2002 research states that CCTV has NO affect on crimes of violence but does affect vehicle crime (Welsh & Farrington 2002). Another research report indicates that property crime might be reduced rather than expressive crimes like assault (Gill & Spriggs 2006). In other words CCTV might reduce the odd burglary and/or vehicle crime but it will have very little impact on the crimes of violence/assault, which appears to be the main reason for its implementation in Bermuda. If our main priority is managing gang/gun violence expecting CCTV to prevent it is simply 'a bridge too far'.

So why do we need CCTV if overall crime, which according to BPS figures, has been fairly static over the years?

CCTV has been in South Hamilton for 13 years without any critical evaluations of its efficacy, cost effectiveness and impact on the surrounding communities. There must be meaningful funding and evaluations going forward on the nature and extent of possible unintended consequences of CCTV and all future government crime prevention strategies (Baron 2011). Stakeholders would argue that crime in South Hamilton has decreased, however, an unintended consequence was that 83 percent of residents questioned in North Hamilton believe that crime had increased following its implementation in South Hamilton, which supports theoretical research that CCTV simply displaces crime to another area (Baron 2011). We may have statistical results provided by police, but what about extensive qualitative research to access how it has impacted the citizens of North Hamilton and what might be the impacts of crime displacement in other areas of the Island?

What about cost … the initial outlay cost for South Hamilton was in the region of $1.3 million, but the ongoing costs of monitoring, installation and repair continue to rise into the multimillion dollar range. Imagine the millions of dollars it will cost the taxpayer for an Island-wide system! If we are going to spend this kind of money surely it would be best spent directly on resources that are known violent gang crime deterrents.

The monitoring of the system is a major concern. The Bermuda Police Service have strong ethic codes written into their policies, and if they are broken there are severe consequences. However, the BPS will not be monitoring this equipment, it will be a private company, just like the current South Hamilton system is monitored. What sort of ethic codes do these companies have? What happens if an invasion of privacy occurs, eg a friend calls you to say he's just seen your husband with another woman! It could and probably has happened! Are we that willing to have our privacy invaded as a society? Who is accountable/responsible? Who decides what areas will be watched or 'protected' and who will be doing the watching?

CURB would ask Government that before an Island-wide CCTV system is committed to, an Equality Impact Assessment is conducted to ensure that unintended consequences do not result. The cost of this assessment far outweighs the negative unintended consequences that could result with moving ahead with this policy too fast without sufficient investigation and research.

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Published Jan 2, 2013 at 8:00 am (Updated Jan 1, 2013 at 4:28 pm)

CCTV system needs to be assessed

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