It’s said that the UK has the highest concentration of CCTV cameras in the world. Some estimates say we have 4.2m CCTV cameras – one for every 14 people. Walk through central London and you could be caught on camera 300 times in a single day.
Well, in the last two days the creeping automation of the policing of everyday life took another couple of significantly leaps forward.
Press reports on Tuesday said the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) had given the go-ahead for the rollout of Specs average speed cameras in urban areas. The cameras will be used in new 20mph zones, which many in local London politics have been lobbying hard for.
Perhaps the one glimmer of good news is that the cameras will be used in place of speed humps, which, the anti-car brigade suddenly now agree, lead to huge increases in local pollution and noise. Even so, as any experienced driver knows, sticking exactly to a 20mph limit on a narrow, urban street will not be easy. Avoiding a fine will become a serious issue.
But there’s even worse news. Last night it was revealed that the Metropolitan Police have been stripped of their powers to deal with offences involving major road signs. These include such things as ignoring ‘one way’ and ‘no right and left turn’ signs.
Although drivers can be stopped and ‘advised’, the Police can no longer give a ‘formal warning’ or take any ‘reporting action’.
Apparently, powers to prosecute (ie send out big fat fines) now lies with Transport for London and London local authorities, who will use the extensive CCTV camera network to scan the streets.
Understandably, some coppers are hoping mad. As I pointed a few days ago, Traffic Police make a major contribution to road safety by stopping drivers on the spot and issuing strong words of advice or a ticket. And Traffic Cops have a huge success rate in uncovering other wrong doing, thanks to their instinct for dodgy cars and dodgy driving.
But instead of experienced officers, exercising professional judgment, Britain is going to be policed by unthinking 9-5, civilian camera operators whose idea of car crime will be illegal left turns. Will the cameras be able to breathalyse drivers? Stop drugged drivers? Pull over tailgaters?
Years ago, parking offences were handled by the Police. Then the whole system was hived off to civilian operatives who needed to hand out fines in order to pay their own wages and raise money for the council coffers. In short order, parking enforcement went from keeping the traffic flowing to an expensive game of cat and mouse.
Indeed, if you want an example of the current policy-maker’s hatred of drivers, consider this. A parking fine in London for overstaying by 3-4 minutes can easily be £80. Well, a couple of years ago, the law on shop lifting was changed so that anybody caught with less than £250’s worth of stolen goods would get an automatic, on the spot fine of…£80.
But I’ll finish by giving you the most chilling example of law-enforcement by robotic cameras and robotic people. In June 2007 terrorists packed two E-Class Mercs with gas tanks and parked one in London’s Haymarket and one in the adjacent street. The Haymarket bomb was spotted by an ambulance driver at around 1.30am and the area evacuated.
However, the other Merc was ticketed by a parking warden, then quickly towed off and stored at the huge Park Lane underground car park.
The traffic wardens and tow truck drivers clearly didn’t watch the news because, even though the car was parked outside because it smelt of petrol, they didn’t call the Police. The cops eventually tracked the second Merc-bomb down the following afternoon.
And still the policy makers would rather have cameras instead of coppers.
Mind how you go.