We’ll be watching: CCTV goes up on Victoria Street

Soon after reports late last year of an extremely high number of overdoses in a small area of Richmond, the state government announced that it would fund the installation of CCTV cameras on Victoria Street.

The State Member for Richmond, Richard Wynne (Labor), told YR “we’ve listened to local traders, police and the community, all who believe CCTV is key to a safer neighbourhood.”

His support stems from the need for “protecting residents, business and the droves of visitors” to Richmond, he said.

“An investment of $250,000 will establish the CCTV implementation in Richmond, and will include an expert CCTV consultant to help design the camera network and ensure the police have coverage where it needs it,” Wynne said.

According to a statement by the Minister for Police, Lisa Neville, announcing statewide funding to enhance public spaces and reduce crime, the funding can be used for “streetscape and amenity improvements” and “lighting systems and other security measures to prevent crime”, as well as installing CCTV.

“Whether it’s CCTV or a new lighting system, these are projects designed by local communities to encourage more foot traffic and reduce crime,” Minister Neville said.

Despite Minister Neville’s assurance that the local communities were involved in the process, the Yarra Council’s Mayor, Cr Amanda Stone, has some skepticism, stating in a press release that “CCTV alone won’t solve the problem,” and that “a holistic approach including a medically supervised injecting facility, health and education programs, urban renewal, community partnerships and law enforcement,” are necessary to make the area safer.

Proposed locations for CCTV will include Lennox Street, Richmond. Photo: Scott Robinson

Stones statement includes figures that show the City of Yarra to have three times the average number of overdoses leading to death compared with Greater Melbourne. It also emphasises that more resources are needed to address the health, social service and justice issues related to the overdoses, and public safety more broadly.

Although the local government’s power and responsibility are limited, in the statement the Council expressed a commitment to public engagement and will undertake an upgrade as part of a Crime Prevention Victoria grant.

The upgrade will include delivery of urban design and related streetscape improvements. The corner of Lennox and Victoria Streets in Richmond will see installations of lighting, street furniture, paving, and landscaping.

The project, listed on the Crime Prevention Victoria websiteas the Victoria Street Central Precinct Upgrade, states its aim is to “improve perceptions of safety and to deter drug-related crimes.”

The Yarra Council also has committed to a public engagement project involving residents and traders in a community conversation and hopes that improving urban design around the area will improve perceptions of safety.

An Urban design project in Richmond. Photo: Scott Robinson

A report by the Victoria Street Working Group, based on a public safety survey and released in October 2016, shows that Victoria Street is considered by 38% of respondents to be unsafe at night, with a high proportion citing drug-related issues (62%), and only 16% cited an issue with lighting or surveillance.

The report shows that residents of Richmond (North, Central and South), were able to nominate specific locations that made them feel unsafe, with a higher number of women than men feeling unsafe in specific places.

Whether or not CCTV will improve public perceptions of safety and deter crime is uncertain. A note of caution is presented in the Australian Institute of Criminology’s report on CCTV, which shows that crime actually increased after some installations.

The cameras led to a “minor displacement of crime and a host of problems with monitoring, maintenance, and system upgrades.” The institute also reports that CCTV systems should be part of a “combination of measures” designed to prevent crime.

Meanwhile, the guidelines of both the Department of Justice and Victoria Police regarding CCTV show that additional resources will be needed.

The Department of Justice, in a presentation on CCTV, explains that the grant of $250,000 cannot be used for monitoring the cameras once installed.

Similarly, the police guidelines state that “Victoria Police is not responsible for the establishment, repair, replacement, operation or funding for the operation” of CCTV programs, and that police involvement will be “to a level that its local resources and priorities allow.” In this case, police will be operating and monitoring the camera network.

Although it is possible for the council to own and operate their own camera network, according to the Victorian Ombudsman’s Guidelines for CCTV, the Yarra Council will not be involved in this installation.

Instead, they will be conducting public engagements on Victoria Street on Saturday 18th February (10-12 pm) and Wednesday 22nd February (5:30-7:30 pm). This engagement, as well as the working group’s next survey, may give an indication of how CCTV will change public perceptions.

Along with public perception, the problem of drug use and related crime, and the high number of overdoses in the area will be tests for the efficacy of the cameras. Advocacy and representative groups are not optimistic.

Along with their harm-minimisation approach, in a recent open letter the council has called for a medically supervised injection centre. This call has the support of numerous advocacy and medical groups, and is said to be effective at preventing overdoses, as well as “effective in reducing the number of discarded needles and syringes in local streets and the frequency of public witnessing of injecting drug use and overdoses.”

Concluding the statement, Cr Amanda Stone repeats the call for public engagement as part of a Reimagining Victoria Street project, and states that “addressing the issues on Victoria Street will take a collaborative effort from all levels of government, Victoria Police, health service providers and the community.”

Written by Scott Robinson

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