Caught on camera – Sevenoaks’ CCTV system, which helps make the district one of the safest places to live, is given a £50,000 upgrade
HAVE you ever had that feeling that someone is watching you?
Well, if you walk down any of the High Streets or in other public areas and car parks in the towns within the Sevenoaks district, there is a good chance you are being observed by one of the many cameras that make up the area’s CCTV system.
The windowless control room is located deep in a basement area under the District Council offices in Argyle Road, Sevenoaks. It was opened in October 1995 with just 30 cameras. Today there are now 122 cameras which cover Sevenoaks, Swanley, Westerham, Edenbridge and New Ash Green.
After 23 years, the control room was starting to show signs of age, so it was recently given a £50,000 upgrade. The refurbishment included re-figuring the room to make it more user-friendly for the team of operators who work on a shift system to provide cover seven days a week – including Christmas Day! Plus, out went the 24 outdated, energy hungry TV monitors. They were replaced by large energy efficient screens which have vastly improved the views over the district from the cameras, many of which the operators can pan, tilt and zoom at the flick of a joystick on their control console.
The recording equipment was also upgraded so footage caught by the cameras can instantly be shared with the police if required. Footage is automatically deleted after 31 days unless specifically requested by the police force.
The increasing use of CCTV has attracted criticism from groups such as Big Brother Watch which campaigns against state surveillance, while others defend the use of cameras saying if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about.
There is no doubt that the system does deter criminal and anti-social activity, and assists police in fighting crime in the Sevenoaks district. Last year the CCTV control room instigated, assisted and monitored 85 arrests. It also dealt with 233 quality of life calls, 363 ShopSafe calls, 15 domestic violence incidents, 275 child-related matters, and dealt with 212 vulnerable and missing people incidents.
It also helps deal with quality of life issues such as noise complaints, lost and stray dogs, clean and waste water issues, dead animals, dangerous structures, flooding, fly tipping, to name but a few. The CCTV operators are responsible for the council’s out of hours emergency telephone service and last year dealt with 1,612 calls.
Studies have found Sevenoaks to be one of the safest places to live in Kent and the district council says the CCTV system contributes towards this by helping to reduce crime and the fear of crime by supporting the local community safety strategy and by creating a safer community which improves the quality of life for all.
Sharon Wright, who has been the CCTV Control Room Partnership Manager in Sevenoaks and Tunbridge Wells for the last 12 years, would still like to see even more improvements and additions to the facilities. The CCTV system in the Sevenoaks area is currently funded by the district council but she hopes she can convince local businesses that contributions to the service will help provide even more protection for their stores and premises.