Shetland has more CCTV cameras than the San Francisco Police Department – and there are more on the way.
A survey by the BBC’s Newsnight programme revealed the isles have 101 surveillance cameras dotted around schools, offices, ferry terminals and other public places – although the council admitted to The Shetland Times that the figure was actually 113.
By contrast, San Francisco’s police has just 71 surveillance cameras, despite patrolling a city of 809,000 citizens.
Shetland’s figure does not even include the controversial network of 14 cameras that will soon by keeping a beady eye on the town centre.
Despite having been approved for more than a year and a half, those cameras have yet to start rolling because of ongoing planning issues.
Isles MP Alistair Carmichael said he doubted Shetland, with a population of 22,000, needed all the cameras it had at its disposal.
“I’d want to know where they are before I would say any individual one was unnecessary, but there is a wider problem and that is that we are all too accepting of the need for CCTV,” he said.
“We ought to be much more rigorous in our questioning of it. We have a low crime rate and are a relatively crime-free community, and if we go down the same road as the rest of the country in terms of surveillance then we won’t get the benefits of one of the things that makes life in Shetland special.”
Cameras are currently situated at the entrance of six schools in the isles, while another has been placed in an interview room of the council’s finance offices for the safety of staff.
Cameras are also running at the energy recycling plant and landfill area, while a mobile unit which swings into action following alleged incidents of anti-social behaviour also has a camera.
Ports at Sella Ness and Scalloway are filmed, and CCTV units also record activities at the library. The majority of cameras do record, but their images are only kept for a short time before being wiped.
In the meantime, the council’s community safety department is still waiting for the 14 cameras from Faerdie Maet to the foot of Harbour Street to be put up, although the ugly black poles which sparked a row earlier this year because they were not in keeping with the area have at last been taken down.
Community safety officer Jenny Wylie said objections had been lodged against plans to place four aerials on top of the clock tower at the Town Hall, which was causing another delay. The aerials are needed to beam information back to the police station.
Representatives from south-based company Scotshield – which is providing the cameras – have to make a return visit to the isles to make the aerials less prominent. “Hopefully it can be treated as an amendment to the existing application,” said Ms Wylie.