The wraps have officially been pulled off Lerwick’s long-awaited CCTV system. The network of 14 cameras in the town has been operating since February. However teething troubles had prevented an official launch event from taking place until now.
The cameras, which run from the foot of Harbour Street to Faerdie-Maet, are controversial. Their introduction makes Lerwick one of the most heavily watched towns in the country, with one camera operating for every 500 people.
They feed images back to the police station via a radio signal where they are digitally recorded. The system records 24/7 and police staff monitor the images. All images recorded will be able to be used as evidence and shown in court as required.
At a special ceremony at the Lerwick police station, Shetland’s area commander David Bushell said the £240,000 system had already proven its worth.
He said the cameras would boost safety in the town and offer re-assurance to the community.
He added they also helped officers intervene on developing incidents, such as street brawls at weekends, before they had got out of hand.
“The installation of a CCTV system will be a huge benefit to the safety of people in Lerwick,” he said. “Many town centres throughout the country have similar systems which are seen as a community safety tool.
“The police can use the system to keep the public safe, prevent crime and help to detect crime.”
Community safety officer Sergeant Jason Beeston added the system had provided “invaluable” evidence which had helped police deal with various offences and incidents.
As well as being a visible deterrent, he said, the cameras had offered evidence in relation to crimes of dishonesty, child protection issues and tracing missing persons.
Also attending the event was SIC councillor and joint police board member, Alastair Cooper. He welcomed the introduction of the cameras as a “deterrent to crime”.
He was concerned crime may be “driven into the back of the town” following their introduction, although Mr Bushell said there had been no evidence of that so far.
Getting the cameras running has been a long and sometimes fraught process.
However Mr Bushell was keen to stress that all images fully complied with the Data Protection Act. Private dwelling areas are pixilated out to allow residents their privacy.
Talk of introducing a CCTV system goes back to 2003. In November of that year a problem-solving workshop was held in response to growing concerns about the number and frequency of serious assaults, as well as incidents of anti-social behaviour.
Community safety officers were tasked with carrying out a feasibility study into a CCTV system.
The Shetland Community Safety Partnership secured £220,000 from the Scottish government’s anti-social behaviour fund, and contributed £20,000 of its own funds.
Also attending the event were Chris Bowie and Wilma Tulloch, who had once organised a petition to get CCTV up and running, which attracted over 100 signatures.
“When I first came to Shetland you could have walked through Lerwick at any time day or night,” said Mrs Bowie. “There are too many incidents and I thought the cameras would be a good idea.”