Opinion: Filming the streets doesn’t catch criminals

You have to love exaggerations.

If you believe everything you read, there are marauding gangs of yobs running around like conquistadors on the streets of Britain. On deprived estates everywhere, there are small armies of foraging youths holding small pockets of civilisation hostage. These ensieged Montezumas of wholesome family life go around as prisoners in their home day to day, waking up in fear, eating breakfast in fear, having fear for lunch…you get the picture.

Outside the window are an encampment of 15 year-olds, solemnly chewing gum as they wait for supplies to be brought. Meanwhile, the police (who supposedly have order on the streets) sit in an armoured van, ignoring the little things in order to focus on the daily cases of GBH that happen.

If the world were like this, there’d be mass bourgeois suicides. The middle classes would be impaling themselves on swords as a symbolic message of non-violent protest in Tesco. It’d end up with civil war between the haves and the have-nots – just like every other civil war in history.

Of course, life isn’t like this.

Too many people (who read too generalised a newspaper) believe this though. The word “scum” is used every day, and is almost copyrighted by tabloid sub-editors, generally used next to the picture of some adolescent who has just shot a dog in the face or something like that. There’s a wholesale ignorance of the fact that, throughout history, the world has been full of bastards and that the art of brutish thuggery is a new occurrence.

Far be it from me to chasten the paranoia of others – for a start, watching them is quite entertaining – but Britain’s social ills aren’t abnormal throughout history… there’s always been graverobbers, there’s always been people torturing little animals. Read the Bible – that’s full of people being evil and killing each other. It’s not curable.

So, if we’ve established that humans, in general, are a sadistic lot, then one has to ask, why does the Labour government insist on filming it all?

Are we led by a gore-hungry pack of wolves who want to spend all their time watching acts of violence? They don’t deter crime – there’s plenty of dark alleys in which to administer beatings, and there’s plenty of people ignorant enough to just beat people up on camera. Surveillance society doesn’t work – it catches people out who are dumb, or just particularly uncareful. Whereas the smart people, who do tend to be more dangerous as criminals, just dodge it.

Our jails are full of idiots, the siege weapons used as force while the generals sit in their tents, venturing out occasionally to pick out weaknesses. Society hasn’t changed in years – the smart guys use the dumb guys to not get caught. Filming the streets doesn’t catch the criminal at home.

* Richard Wilson is a Liberal Democrat member in Sale.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • David Morton 13th Feb '08 - 10:03pm

    The bourgeois don’t need to commit mass suicide. They can afford houses in nice areas. With one exception I’m very sympathetic to the broad thrust of this. You’d need top notch stats and some presentaional armour plating but I suspect CCTV has been extended massively past its useful remit simply as a cypher for local action on crime.

    I think there can be a role for mobile vans and portable camera used in an itelligence led way but the big town centre schemes in my experience either (a) shift problems else where (b) record massive ammounts of low level disorder we don’t have the bodies to deal with. Ergo it achieves nothing.

    I suppose my note of caution is this. Lets not forget that a small minority of areas in Britain really ARE as bad as some of the sterotypes.

  • I see a lot of winging here, and no problem solving. what are your suggestions?

    You may believe that there is not much of a problem, but then you are probably bourgeois yourself. I expect that you have never had the pleasure of living in a ‘no-go’ area. You have probably never been attacked or intimidated by a group of children. And if you had, I expect that you would have appreciated it if it was caught on camera.

  • Hywel Morgan 13th Feb '08 - 11:32pm

    If young people these days are so apalling and don’t care about anyone/thing else it’s interesting the Scouts claim that 100,000 people a day take part in their activities.

    Ok so some of those will be the organising adults but it does give you an idea of how many young people are engaged in “worthwhile” activities that never get reported.

    That’s a counterpoint to the “young people are to blame for everything” approach the tabloids and most politicians like to promote.

  • Peter Bancroft 14th Feb '08 - 9:24am

    CCTV is a classic example of us making a trade-off. From my perspective the fact that we have had a massive increase in state surveillance for no decrease in crime means that it’s not a worthwhile trade-off. CCTVs are in practice a massive attack on liberty for no increase in security.

    Others will point out that it makes people feel safe and there is a valid point that it has captured a number of criminals (after the fact).

    I think that it’s very difficult for people spending all their time living in this country to understand how things can be different – In Canada CCTV has been deemed against the right to privacy, for example. The people there have significantly greater privacy, whilst not suffering a quantitative increase in the crime that they suffer from.

  • Richard Wilson 14th Feb '08 - 5:13pm

    Finally, confused for someone else other than Victor Meldrew. I feel truly blessed.

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