Police and street wardens in Birmingham city centre were ‘working blind’ again at the weekend after ongoing CCTV upgrades gave them no access to live camera feeds.
Pete Willis, senior street warden for Westside Business Improvement District (BID), said that the loss of live feeds caused havoc for the second weekend running, causing major security risks.
Mr Willis explained that police were no longer able to monitor what was going on, leaving them “blind” in what was “a return to the 1970s”.
Mr Willis said: “One example was at around 2am on Sunday morning when I was called to a hotel which had ejected a guest who had been violent and was extremely intoxicated.
“On the hotel cameras, they saw him enter the gated car park and were worried he was going to drive off in his car. When I attended and spoke to him, he denied he was driving, but as the gate opened to let a car in, he drove off.
“I immediately called Police Camera but their screens were black. All they could do was pass it onto traffic and hope he passed a police car. Previously they would have been able to follow the car on camera and alert officers to stop it. This is like going back to the 1970s!”
Mr Willis said a further incident took place shortly afterwards, at around 2.45am on Sunday.
He said: “We were alerted by venue security to the presence of two vehicles containing five or six occupants in each. The wardens who attended said they were clearly smoking drugs, but again the police couldn’t see them.
“When wardens approached them, they drove off along Broad Street. If the cameras had been working as they should, they would have picked them up and known exactly where they were heading.
“There were also numerous confrontations called through to Police Camera but the only response was to see if there were any officers nearby, as they could not see anything on CCTV screens. Previously, they would be able to turn the camera round, monitor the situations and gain evidence if needed.”
Birmingham City Council owns, manages and monitors the CCTV network. In a joint statement with West Midlands Police last week, the council insisted that the CCTV network “remains fully operational”, although it conceded there was some “planned disruption” during the planned upgrades.
The issue with the CCTV camera feeds emerged barely a week after the fatal stabbing of a 17-year-old youth in Victoria Square, in the city centre, on Saturday 20 January.
Lawrence Barton, Birmingham’s first nighttime economy champion, a role created by the city council, said: “It is shocking and disappointing to find that the issue with CCTV has not been resolved as we were promised by local authorities last week.
“It is wholly unacceptable that we are still in this dire situation. We demand the police and council collaborate immediately to solve this issue today for the safety of all in our city.”
Mike Olley, general manager of Westside BID, said: “This is a complete fiasco that has put public safety has been at risk.
“This disastrous planning and decision-making by the city council has put the city back several decades and means that the police and wardens are working blind.
“I want to thank our wardens, venues’ door staff and West Midlands Police officers on duty at the weekend for their long hours and extra efforts needed to adapt their approach. Our number one priority is to maintain a safe environment for the public out in the city centre, but it is exhausting.
“The council need to understand this reality and how their inconsiderate and unprofessional actions have impacted on decent people.”
Mr Olley added: “If the council cannot do its job of managing the CCTV network well enough, they should pass the responsibility on to more responsible organisations. Westside BID will happily take the budgets to look after this vital issue, and we will do it properly.”
Westside World has contacted both the city council and West Midlands Police for further comment on this weekend’s CCTV failure.
A West Midlands Police spokesperson said: “The council owns, manages and operates the CCTV rather than us, so you’d need to approach them.”
At the time of issuing this release, there had been no comment from anyone at the city council.