Various people have been asking us to comment on Home Secretary John Reid's latest "must be seen to be doing something" technological magic fix scheme for social and political problems i.e. the "shouting" CCTV surveillance camera idea.
Following a short 3 month, unscientific "trial" in Middlesbrough, for which the Home Office has not bothered to publish any verifiable statistics, nor made any comparisons with, say, increasing the number of "this area is under CCTV surveillance" warning signs, John Reid has announced that the scheme is a "success".
It will be rolled out to the boroughs of Southwark, Barking and Dagenham, Reading, Harlow, Norwich, Ipswich, Plymouth, Gloucester, Derby, Northampton, Mansfield, Nottingham, Coventry, Sandwell, Wirral, Blackpool, Salford, South Tyneside and Darlington.
These will, eventually, be getting around £500,000 of public money, i.e. about £25,000 each, to waste on "shouting" CCTV camera upgrades to a minority of their surveillance systems.
The targets seem to be litter louts and other minor "anti-social" behaviour, who will be shouted warnings and instructions from CCTV camera pole mounted loudspeakers. by literally faceless bureaucrat camera operators , who do not actually have any Police enforcement powers at all.
The immediate question which springs to mind is why the existing CCTV surveillance cameras, linked as they must be to a live camera operator in a control room, have not already eliminated such behaviour as promised ? That false promise is one on which hundreds of millions of pounds of Central Government and Local Government funds have already been wasted on such systems.
We suspect, that this is because most people do not realise that CCTV cameras are being used to zoom in on them, from well beyond normal human visual and audible range, and that, for some reason, these supposedly crime deterrent systems almost all still have far more actual cameras "this area is under CCTV surveillance" warning signs.
The vast difference in the optical range of the cameras and the much more limited audible range of loudspeakers is a hugely important factor, which the Home Secretary and the media have glossed over, to the point of misleading the public over how practical these systems actually are.
If you look at these frame grabs from the BBC video clip:
Girl who has been cajoled into putting her newspaper / magazine litter into the litter bin very close to the CCTV camera / loudspeaker (visible at the top left)
The same girl and her colleague a bit earlier as they start to drop litter. N.B. This is no more than 3 zig zag road markings along from the road crossing where the Camera is sited, presumably the extent of the audible range of the loudspeaker.
You can clearly hear the loud reverberations blaring out from the loudspeaker used in the demonstration with the BBC reporter and the Middlesbrough camera operator talking into his hand held microphone here:
How loud will the loudspeaker co-located with this camera, shown as an example from Europa Boulevard in Birkenhead, for the Camera operator to be able to give clear instructions to these two skateboarders who are visible in the middle of the two carriageways in the background of this scene ?
How much louder still, would the volume of noise blasting out of the co-located speakers have to be ,in order to even attract the attention of the pedestrians visible in these typical Local Council CCTV camera scenes ?
Remember you can optically or digitally zoom in on all of these images, but that does not really bring the people any closer, i.e. within clearly audible range.
We suggest that any CCTV camera co-located loudspeakers in the latter two images, would constitute a public environmental nuisance due to the level of sound which they would have to emit, which by the laws of physics, would carry to the surrounding area.
What happens at night, when "hard working families" will have their sleep disturbed, or during the summer time, when office workers have their windows open and will have their concentration disturbed by loud warnings and instructions blaring out unpredictably from these systems ?
These camera / loudspeaker combinations are not going to be simply restricted to a few pedestrianised shopping streets, where it is quite arguable that , of all the places in a town, there should actually be on the spot foot or bicycle patrols by police constables or other support officers or wardens or security guards etc.
If a private household or commercial entertainment premises causes environmental noise pollution in this way, they could easily be served with an Anti-Social Behaviour Order, a legal route which we hope that the local opponents of these schemes will take up.
William Heath asks at Ideal Government, can these systems be "gamed" ?
As many people will have experienced, with open air public address systems, it is often hard to distinguish the exact point source of a loudspeaker announcement.
We predict that there will be endless mischief caused by pranksters who use their own recorded or direct microphone linked portable stereo systems or boom boxes, to frighten or harass passers by, by simply pretending to be the "Voice of Authority", from a location which is in the approximate direction and vague mental map of where people know or assume the Official Loudspeakers to be.
No doubt such tricks will be videoed by the miscreants themselves on their mobile phone or other digital cameras, and footage will be uploaded to the world wide web.
Will such systems literally be a prelude to Orwellian Communist or Nazi style propaganda loudspeakers ?
The creepy idea of getting local schoolchildren to compete for the honour of being chosen as the "Voice of Authority", is also redolent of totalitarian social engineering and propaganda.
Overall, this scheme looks to be a NuLabour "Must Be Seen To Be Doing Something" about anti-social behaviour, ahead of the forthcoming Local Elections., with obvious appeal to the authoritarian mentality of the ex-Communist Home Secretary John Reid.
At best it will simply be a further waste of public money, at worst, it will cause genuine alarm and a noise pollution nuisance to nearby residents and businesses i.e. an increase in anti-social behaviour.
The Daily Telegraph has published a picture of one of the Middlesbrough "shouting" CCTV surveillance and control cameras, which clearly shows the limitations of the fixed "railway station public address system" type loudspeakers, which do not Pan, Tilt or Zoom like the "death star " CCTV Camera mounting does.
This is part of the the EXIF meta data embedded in this image:(use ExifTool to view this)
Copyright : Talking CCTV cameras...Photo dated 22/09/06 of a "talking" CCTV camera in Middlesbrough town centre. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Wednesday April 4, 2007. Home Secretary John Reid today denied plans to expand the use of "talking" CCTV cameras across the country were "Big Brother gone mad". Loudspeakers are being fitted to cameras in 20 areas, allowing CCTV operators to bark commands at people committing anti-social behaviour. An existing scheme in Middlesbrough has been used to stop vandals and tell litterbugs to pick up their rubbish. See PA story CRIME CCTV. Photo credit should read: Ian McIntyre/Middlesbrough Evening Gazette/PA Wire