Melbourne City Council last night voted to dump its network of 23 security cameras after councillors argued the cameras had failed miserably to prevent crime.
Greens councillor David Risstrom led the charge against the cameras and said the half a million dollars they cost each year would be better spent on police presence. "This system is costing us hundreds of thousands of dollars each year, yet all of the research shows that the cameras don't make people safe in the city, nor do they deter crime," he said.
Cr Risstrom successfully called for the suspension of the camera network at a meeting of the council's safety and health committee.
But the decision, which has angered police, is expected to be reviewed at a meeting of the full council in a fortnight.
After last night's meeting a frustrated police superintendent, Michael Williams, said he was disappointed by the decision. He said the camera program "has proven to be a very effective crime detection tool for the Victoria Police".
A consultant's report on the cameras found they played a "significant role"
in crime detection and that the police used them as a "front-line crime
detection tool". Police told the consultants that they responded to observed
crime in almost 100 per cent of cases.
But the consultants found insufficient evidence that the cameras actually deterred crime. They also found that the cameras were "not perceived to be a strong contributing factor to people feeling safe in the CBD".
Cr Kevin Chamberlain backed the suspension. "The fundamental problem is that the research shows the cameras don't work, yet we're spending more than half a million dollars a year just to run them." He said he recently saw two drug deals in one of the most heavily monitored locations in the city. He said drug dealers simply ignored the cameras.
Under council rules, committees have the power to make policy. However councillors may refer decisions to the full council if they want them overturned.
Cr Tony Nicholson, the chairman of the safety committee, said he would challenge last night's 4-3 decision. He is expected to be backed by Lord Mayor John So.
The committee last night was considering a $250,000 upgrade of the network of cameras, which operate 24 hours a day.
The surveillance of public space in Victoria began in 1979 when the council installed four cameras - to much public opposition.
The number jumped to 24 in 1982 when the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting was held in Melbourne.
Ten cameras were installed in King Street in 1997 after a surge in crime in the nightclub district.
The 23 remaining cameras are monitored by council employees at Melbourne Town Hall. Footage of serious incidents is relayed to the police.