Lerwick’s new network of CCTV cameras is being plagued by technical difficulties four months after an official launch event was supposed to have taken place.
Engineers from Airdrie-based installers Scotshield have been making regular trips to the isles to try to sort out ongoing teething troubles with the £200,000 system.
They have been unable at times to prevent signals being lost from some of the cameras, causing monitoring screens at the police station to go blank.
The network of 14 cameras from the foot of Harbour Street to Faerdie-Maet – overlooking areas at Commercial Street, the Esplanade, Harrison Square and the Market Cross – began operating at the beginning of this year after Scotshield carried out what should have been last minute alterations.
In April chief inspector David Bushell said an official launch was only two weeks away, although he admitted gremlins had caused a delay.
The event would have been regarded as a useful PR exercise for the police to attempt to allay fears that the cameras are too intrusive and breach civil liberties.
Since then, however, all talk of a launch has ceased, although the cameras have still been used when not affected by technical issues.
Speaking to The Shetland Times today Sergeant Gordon Fowler said they had already proved their worth in solving crimes.
He sought to re-assure people concerned about the levels of surveillance in the town, adding a launch event was still planned for when the issues were finally ironed out.
“The cameras have all been working through a wireless system, but we’ve been trying to sort out teething problems,” he said.
“Occasionally we’ve been losing cameras, which is obviously not acceptable. The cameras are fine, but the signals have been lost, and there are times when we can’t rely on them.”
He cited an incident where a parcel was stolen from a van outside Harry’s where the cameras had proved worthwhile.
“CCTV images were looked at and a female suspect was identified,” he said. They had also helped locate missing persons, he said.
Sergeant Fowler said signs were in place to advise people on the street that the cameras were running.
He added private dwelling houses were “pixilated out” to prevent an invasion of residents’ privacy.
Asked about the delayed launch, he said: “The area commander is keen to promote that it is there for public safety, but at the end of the day we don’t want to be seen saying there is an all-singing and all-dancing system when we could end up very much with egg on our chin.
“They have certainly proved their worth. People say ‘can’t you put a car there?’ but cars can’t be there all of the time.
“The cameras have been another set of eyes for the local area. We’re waiting on Scotshield to give us 100 per cent clearance.”
However Scotshield’s regional operations director, Gary Williamson, insisted Lerwick’s cameras were working well.
He said there had been “teething problems with radio signals” which needed “tweaks”, but insisted there were “no major issues”.
“As far as I am concerned there’s no major issue and no reason for any delay. There have been teething problems, but no more teething problems than any other system. No system is ever going to be at its peak when we first hand it over.”
He added there had been no recent report of any problems with the cameras or the signal.
The cameras have had something of a difficult gestation period since approval was given for them back in January 2008.
The system was intended to be up and running by the beginning of summer that year.
But it was October before it emerged a planning wrangle was causing a delay.
Many of the cameras were to be hung from listed buildings, meaning the SIC had to run its plans past Historic Scotland, which dragged its heels in granting approval.
In February last year ugly, thick poles appeared out of the blue at various points in the town, and had to come down after a row over their unsightly appearance.
The poles were intended to house the surveillance cameras, and were designed that way – it emerged – to withstand gale force winds.
Later in the year it transpired Shetland had more CCTV cameras than the San Francisco police department which had just 71 surveillance cameras, despite patrolling a city of 809,000 citizens.
The new cameras on Commercial Street were only going to add to the numbers in the isles.
Calls for CCTV cameras go back as far as 2003, when police launched an attempted murder investigation following a vicious attack on a North Nesting man, who had to be flown to Aberdeen by air ambulance for treatment.