CCTV cameras designed to keep people safe in one of the busiest areas of Liverpool’s nightlife were left out of action for eight months.
Three broken devices, all part of the City Watch safety network and all on Victoria Street, have been offline for most of this year despite Liverpool Council being made aware of problems back in January.
The council said other resources were used to cover the area while the cameras were down.
But whilst lying in disrepair the broken technology created a potential blindspot for council and police officers working to respond to crime on Victoria Street and entrances into the world-famous Cavern Quarter.
They also may have led to missed opportunities for evidence gathering in an area where 212 crimes were reported to Merseyside Police between February and August alone.
Of those, more than 50 allegations were of violent or sexual offences.
The cameras have now been fixed – in repair work that took place after the ECHO made enquiries on the subject.
CAMERAS COVERED KEY AREA OF CITY CENTRE – INCLUDING ENTRANCE TO CAVERN QUARTER
The City Watch camera system is run by Liverpool Council and allows its staff and police to keep an eye on some of the most popular areas of the city.
The network of 279 cameras is monitored 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and, in the council’s words “aims to prevent, deter and detect crimes, and improve public safety and reassurance”.
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The technology is a key tool for frontline crime fighting and helps those using it to identify where resources need to be sent either to prevent or respond to trouble.
In January, one camera was disconnected on Victoria Street while construction work took place in the area.
Three further cameras then went offline when a cable linking them to the CCTV system was damaged.
Those cameras were in place to cover segments of Victoria Street and its side streets that are homes to dozens of pubs, clubs and bars.
The three broken cameras were on Victoria Street’s junctions with Stanley Street, Crosshall Street and Temple Court.
Temple Court is one of the main entrances into the hugely popular Cavern Quarter, visited by tens of thousands of party-goers every week.
It is also an area the ECHO raised safety concerns over in October 2018 after a drunk driver used a BMW to smash through hydraulic bollards and drive down the pedestrianised area in an attempt to hit a doorman.
The council had suggested the bollards were part of safety measures that could help prevent vehicle access to the area in response to concerns raised about vehicle terror attacks that had taken place across Europe in previous years.
IF THOSE CAMERAS ARE NOT THERE, HOW CAN SAFETY BE MAINTAINED?
The council told the ECHO it was made aware the cameras were out of action on January 31 and that it instructed contractors to repair them.
In late September, a spokesman said there had been a delay “due to complications arising out of the ongoing coronavirus outbreak”.
That delay meant that for around seven weeks before the UK was placed into lockdown by the coronavirus pandemic those cameras were unavailable to the frontline officers determined to keep those still busy streets safe.
After lockdown ended, many of the pubs, clubs and bars in the area reopened but the potential weak spot in monitoring the crowds that visited them remained.
And while concerns of trouble were significantly reduced during lockdown, there were worries over other types of crimes – including burglaries and vandalism – among businesses in the area.
Expressing his concern, licensing consultant Karl Barry said: “It is vital the bars do their job in maintaining safety within their environment. However, when people are in the street that area is a hotspot and obviously the cameras allow the police to triage their response to incidents around the city.
“If those cameras are not there, how can they do that?”
DOZENS OF VIOLENT AND SEXUAL OFFENCES REPORTED IN AREA SINCE CAMERAS WENT OFFLINE
Crime report figures from February to August, the latest currently available, show there were 212 reports of crime in the streets around the broken cameras.
Of those, 55 were reports of violent or sexual offences.
While the cameras would not have been in position to capture all of those incidents, they may have caught evidence had they been working.
Liverpool Council told the ECHO further CCTV helped to cover the area affected by the broken cameras, including a specialist 360 degree camera installed last year.
Documents on the authority’s website state all cameras in the City Watch scheme are evaluated and only those deemed necessary are maintained, however – suggesting the broken cameras must offer support not provided by others, otherwise they would be removed.
The council did say licensing, environmental health and streetscene officers provided an extra level of security at busy times in the city centre.
It also confirmed the broken cameras had now been fixed. Those repairs came after the ECHO first made enquiries on the subject in September.
COUNCIL: WE TAKE SAFETY AND SECURITY IN CITY CENTRE EXTREMELY SERIOUSLY
A spokesman for the council said: “The cameras in question are not the only ones that cover the area around the Cavern Quarter and Mathew Street. The council has recently invested £7,000 upgrading one of the cameras in this area to give a 360 degree field of view.
“So, whilst these cameras were out of action we were able to use these extra resources to ensure the area was covered.
“Liverpool City Council and its partners take safety and security in our city centre extremely seriously. Cameras are not the only tool used by the council to support public safety. Our licensing enforcement, environmental health and streetscene officers are present at key times in the city centre throughout the week.
“The council’s CCTV system was in use throughout lockdown and its cameras and operators were fundamental in the detection and apprehension of a number of offenders.
“The cables feeding these cameras were damaged during public realm improvements works being completed by contractors.
“We alerted the contractor as soon as we became aware and notified them that it was their responsibility to repair them.
“Due to complications arising from the coronavirus lockdown, this has taken longer than anticipated. The work has now been completed and the cameras are back in operation.”