Chief constable defends ‘trivial’ use of CCTV

By Robin Turner | USING CCTV cameras to spy on dog owners who fail to clear up their pets’ mess is perfectly acceptable, Wales’ most controversial police chief claims.

In his blog, the outspoken North Wales Chief Constable Richard Brunstrom dismissed the debate on alleged misuse of CCTV as “a bizarre hue and cry”.

And he maintained a tidy environment had a much bigger impact on most people’s lives than the burglary rate.

“We can, should and will use CCTV systems and associated surveillance powers to detect and prevent antisocial offences and to tackle the offenders.

“Dog dirt does matter, because the local residents say that it does. We should be celebrating this, not attacking it.

“Research clearly and repeatedly shows our citizenry in the UK is very comfortable with today’s surveillance society.

“CCTV makes people (including me) feel safer.

“The research also shows the importance of local issues — a clean and tidy environment has a much bigger impact on most people’s quality of life than does the burglary rate. Law-abiding taxpayers like an ordered society and actively welcome CCTV.  

“The clamour for more cameras, and the surveillance which logically follows is deafening — for those like me who choose to spend time in town and village halls, talking and listening.”

After it emerged CCTV and other covert surveillance was being used to catch litter bugs, under-age smokers, dog foulers and false compensation claimants, Sir Simon Milton, head of the Local Government Association, warned that local councils ran the risk of alienating the public.

Sir Simon wrote to council leaders last month calling on them to “urgently review” their use of covert surveillance operations and to ensure they were “never used lightly nor for trivial matters”.

But Mr Brunstrom, who said he “struck a chord” by showing a picture of dog mess to members of the Deganwy Residents’ Association whom he met recently, said people wanted CCTV used to trap the irresponsible and anti-social.

He said: “I still find it surprising that after nearly 30 years in the police fighting crime, that the hot local policing topic nowadays is dog dirt and irresponsible dog owners — but it often is.

“This is a lesson well worth learning, and it’s why more senior public officials (and journalists) should spend more time with taxpayers.”

Mr Brunstrom’s views were backed by Ginette Unsworth of Keep Britain Tidy, who said: “Litter and dog-fouling are the first steps on a rung of different issues. If you haven’t got a nice, tidy, litter-free location, then other things happen because it looks like an area that is uncared for.

“Vandalism comes, people don’t go there, drug dealers move in and it’s a downward spiral.”

However, Neath councillor John Warman, who runs the pressure group Protection of Privacy, said: “We already have litter wardens and other council officials to check on litter bugs and dog mess and some areas even have ‘bin spies’ to check on what we put out for collection. If we keep extending the boundaries, we will have CCTV watching our every move.

“Surveillance laws brought in basically to tackle terrorism are being used to such a point councils are being seen not as services but as nosy intruders.”

Mr Brunstrom added that the clamour over the dog dirt issue was due to declining crime rates.

“As a result other forms of anti-social behaviour come to the fore — it is rather wonderful that we have nothing more frightening to talk about than dog fouling. Truly, we have turned a corner.”