After a long-running campaign, a controversial set of CCTV cameras are finally being removed from Sparkbrook and Washwood Heath in Birmingham. The regions are predominantly Muslim, and local residents had been fiercely opposed to the system. Many wondered why two medium-sized districts in Birmingham required 218 cameras, including 169 advanced Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras which monitor the movement of vehicles.
The cameras had been financed with funding from a counter-terrorism initiative, but had been marketed to locals as a general crime-prevention measure. As long ago as last October, the chief constable of West Midlands Police called for the cameras to be removed, and suggested working closely with the local community would be a superior method to keep crime rates low. Locals had viewed the installation of the cameras as intrusive and divisive. Some had suggested the cameras were actually designed to spy on the Muslim population, rather than reduce crime. One local, Steve Jolly, led a now successful campaign to have the cameras removed.
Assistant Chief Constable Sharon Rowe said:
"The work starting today shows that we have listened to what our communities wanted and acted upon those wishes. We have liaised closely with our communities to keep them informed of developments and when they can expect cameras to be removed from actual streets.
"I would like to stress that the cameras have never been operational. We accept that mistakes were made and we are keen to learn the lessons that emerged from the review into Project Champion. The removal of the cameras is part of that learning process.
"Our neighbourhood teams will now focus on forging closer links with local communities across the affected areas."
Daniel Hamilton, director of Big Brother Watch, said today:
"While we are delighted these cameras are being removed, this expensive and oppressive waste of time should never have been given the go-ahead. Vital civil liberties and any basic concept of privacy were both disregarded by this scheme.
"These cameras were totally unnecessary for anti-terror or anti-crime purposes and only served to alienate Muslim residents. Public trust in the police has been significantly undermined and will take years to rebuild."
Lessons should be learnt from this entire fiasco, primarily that installing expensive, intrusive CCTV systems should not be the default approach to dealing with crime. The total cost of the exercise has not been revealed, but this money could and should have been used on police officers who can actually fight crime, not on cameras which were never even turned on. It would be beneficial, though unlikely, if this started a more general debate about the use of CCTV cameras in the United Kingdom.