Norwich to get 'talking' CCTV cameras

Big Brother is watching you - and soon he will be shouting at you as well. With security cameras on every street corner, it is a fact of modern life that we are all stars of CCTV.

Big Brother is watching you - and soon he will be shouting at you as well.

With security cameras on every street corner, it is a fact of modern life that we are all stars of CCTV.

But now Norfolk residents are bracing themselves for a new development which will see anyone committing a misdemeanour in a public place getting a strict telling off by a voice from above.

Norwich is set to become the latest city in the country to have talking cameras - first introduced in the north east - installed in a bid to curb antisocial behaviour.

Using loudspeakers fitted to existing cameras, operators working in the city council's control room will be able to bark instructions telling perpetrators to stop what they are doing and move on.

The new weapon designed to combat anti-social behaviour in Eaton and Waterloo parks could be up and running by the end of May and, if successful, could be extended to other locations covered by the council's network of 60 cameras.

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The cameras are being installed in partnership with the government's Respect Unit and Norwich City Council is one of 20 authorities receiving funding. The council has received £35,000 for the installation of the cameras and will contribute another £30,000 towards the monitoring system.

Offenders will hear a voice warning them they are on camera and asked to immediately stop what they are doing - be it dropping litter, behaving in an intimidating way or vandalising property.

A series of competitions run in city schools will even give children the chance to become the voice for a day allowing them to tell of adults who misbehave.

Colin Penfold, Community Safety Manager for Norwich City Council, said it was not possible for parks to be guarded 24 hours a day or realistic to secure them to prevent people getting in at night.

He said: “Our experience tells us that the majority of people who behave antisocially do so out of thoughtlessness and will stop when they are challenged in a reasonable manner.

“We hope the talking CCTV will allow us to make that challenge quickly and effectively. Involving local young people will also ensure the messages get home to the wider community and that we all work together to improve our parks.”

Louise Casey, the Government's co-ordinator for Respect, said: “Promoting good behaviour and challenging bad is a key theme of the Respect Action Plan. Children are often criticised for their attitude, when in fact the vast majority know how to behave and recognize the bad behaviour of others, young and old alike.

“We want to remind people about what is, and what is not, respectful behaviour and we are encouraging children to send this clear message to grown ups - act anti-socially and face the shame of being publicly embarrassed. We hope that perpetrators will think twice before doing it again.”

The scheme has already been successful in Middlesbrough where the camera-scheme was tested before the Government agreed to roll it out to other areas.

TALKING CCTV IN MIDDLESBOROUGH

Talking security cameras have already been hailed as a success in Middlesbrough - the first place in the UK to have them installed. They have been used 173 times in less than a year, as Olivia Richwald, a journalist based in the north east, reports:

The talking cameras were first launched in Middlesbrough in July 2006, but the idea was conceived in December 2005. There are now nine speaking cameras across the town.

A spokesman for Middlesbrough Council gave this example: "In October they were used 69 times with some success including a male who was seen running through the town centre with his trousers around his ankles, and his friend chasing him.

"A warning was given, he pulled his trousers up and they both looked really embarrassed."

In another incident, a male motorcyclist who dropped a cigarette butt to the floor was reprimanded by the talking camera. Afterwards two passersby were spotted remonstrating with the male until he picked up the cigarette butt and disposed of it in a nearby litter bin.

The council believes that the cameras have worked to nip incidents in the bud before they get out of hand. They not only act as a kind of public humiliation, but the operators can also hand out advice and intervene in incidents as they happen.

Middlesbrough mayor, Ray Mallon, a former police officers dubbed Robocop, said: "The idea is a good one because it is about intervening at a street level to prevent anti-social behaviour. For every person asked to pick up litter, several others will heed the warning.

"It's not about arresting more people; it is about changing their mindset so crime doesn't happen in the first place."

WHAT YOU THINK

t Lukman Hussin, 22, shop assistant from Norwich: “It makes me feel uncomfortable and it's a bit over the top. You have to wonder if it is just a low cost alternative to employing police officers. If somebody is committing a serious offence this won't stop them and if they are doing something petty they are likely to carry on safe in the knowledge the police won't attend.”

t Joe Mclean, 16, GCSE student from Norwich: “Some people may see it as a challenge and something to rebel against. They may play up to it and deliberately do things that they think they'll get told off for. If they really want to do something wrong, they'll do it regardless.”

t Becky Fry, 20, student from Norwich: “In general I think it is a good idea - just as long as it isn't used for really minor things. A lot of the time people ignore cameras because they don't think they're being monitored. This will reinforce the fact that somebody is watching and, if you do something wrong, action will be taken.”

t Jennie Matthews, 52, civil servant, Blofield Heath: “I think it's appropriate. If you've done something wrong then you should get a shock! It probably won't be effective though. They'll do it whatever. It's not as effective as more policemen on the beat. I don't think Norwich is too bad for litter. I think the system is needed but I don't know if it will work.”

t Richard Archer, 55, retired, Long Stratton: “It's a bit Big Brother and Orwellian isn't it? I suppose if it cuts down violence and vandalism then it's a good thing. Violence is a problem and rubbish as well. Hopefully this will make a difference.”

t Harold Lenton, 72, and Jessie Weldon, 80, retired, Rotherham and Sheffield: “Anything to keep yobs off the streets. We should stand them up against the wall and shoot them! The litter problem is worse than this in Sheffield. When I was growing up they didn't have any cameras. Policemen used to be on the streets stopping problems. It's a different culture now.”