Thousands of new cameras filming streets

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The Independent Online

The surveillance camera revolution continued apace yesterday with the announcement that 180 anti-crime closed-circuit television schemes had won government funding of £33m.

The surveillance camera revolution continued apace yesterday with the announcement that 180 anti-crime closed-circuit television schemes had won government funding of £33m.

The projects include the installation of cameras on housing estates, in town and city centres, along beachfronts, in universities, outside pubs, and overlooking car parks and streets in England and Wales. The measures are part of a three-year programme in which the Government is to award £170m to pay for thousands of CCTVs around Britain.

But Labour's love affair with surveillance cameras as a means of deterring and detecting crime has been challenged by criminologists and civil-liberty groups. They say there is little evidence that they reduce offending, and that the devices merely displace crime to unmonitored areas nearby. There are also concerns about creating a "big brother" society, and worries about who controls the cameras.

Crimes being targeted by yesterday's schemes include robbery, handbag snatches, business burglaries, thefts of and from cars, ram-raiding and drink-fuelled violence.

Projects awarded funding include a chain of car parks along the Swansea Bay coastal strip; a shopping centre in Crosby, Merseyside; a housing estate in Poole and the seafront in Weymouth, both in Dorset; Bath University car park; Hull city centre; schools and businesses in Durham; the streets of Brixton, south London; tower blocks in Birmingham, and Chinatown in the West End, London.

The Home Secretary, Jack Straw, said: "This Government is determined to reduce crime and the fear of crime. CCTV is playing a crucial role in helping the police combat crime and, importantly, reduce the fear of crime. Today's announcement is the largest single allocation of CCTV money to date and thousands of people across England and Wales will soon be able to benefit from CCTV in their communities, towns, villages and shopping centres."

Recent research into operators of surveillance cameras found abuse by private-sector workers who used the CCTV to look at attractive women, watch people having sex in car parks and target a disproportionate number of young black people. There was also some evidence of police interference in surveillance when cameras captured wrong-doing by fellow officers.

However, the Police Complaints Authority has found CCTV footage extremely useful in catching out officers, as well as clearing them from malicious allegations.

Mr Straw added: "As an extra set of eyes for the police, CCTV is always 'on the beat' and able to provide an accurate and permanent record of what and who has been seen. The technology has proved its worth in reducing crime and making people feel safer. "

* Large rises in reported cases of violent crime, particularly rape and mugging, will be shown in annual figures to be published today. They will show a sharp increase in robberies last year, with London the worst affected.

The Home Office argues that the rape figures were in line with a welcome trend of women being more willing to report sexual crime due to more sensitive policing, particularly in cases when they knew the perpetrator. Today's statistics, for the 12 months ending September 1999, will include for the first time a breakdown of crime in each police division. In future, the Home Secretary intends to draw up performance tables comparing similar types of police divisions in forces in England and Wales.