A safe night out & video surveillance
How to make sure that the nightlife in our cities is safe, but also fun? This project showed that various measures are required to ensure socially-responsible video surveillance.
Policies for surveillance in nightlife areas tend to focus on safety, but ambience is also important. A large presence of police officers and police cars, for example, is counter-productive; preferable is “friendly” supervision by stewards and police officers on bicycles, and camera surveillance. Visitors to city centres are not necessarily opposed to the use of closed-circuit television (CCTV), a system that can be used for video surveillance. Diversity in the control room is required to prevent ethnic profiling and discrimination.
Nightlife is an important part of a city’s economy as it involves large sums of money and can strengthen a city’s reputation. To ensure people’s safety in these areas, surveillance that makes use of technology is increasingly being implemented in nightlife districts, for example with video cameras. Social geographers and a philosopher of technology examined how to implement night-time urban surveillance in a socially-responsible manner. Although their research focused on Rotterdam and Utrecht, their findings are also applicable in other cities.
Rotterdam is the only city in the Netherlands in which images from over 400 cameras are monitored live, 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. This made it the perfect location for a study into the effectiveness and possible drawbacks of CCTV.
The researchers involved in this project worked together with restaurant, bar and club owners, the police, community support officers and, of course, young people who take part in the city’s nightlife. Using questionnaires, interviews and focus groups, they determined how safe young people feel in different situations. One of the researchers spent several nights studying CCTV images with operatives in the CCTV control room.
The findings of this project were:
- Sense of safety: surprisingly, the cameras in the city did not contribute very much to a sense of safety. This is because visitors to these areas are often unaware of the camera locations and because they know very little about how video surveillance works.
- Privacy: people are more concerned about being filmed on other people’s mobile phones than on CCTV cameras. The reason given is that personal images can be spread on social media; in other words, privacy.
- Ethnic profiling: other than expected, very little ethnic profiling took place in the control room in Rotterdam where the video images were monitored. Concerns regarding the discrimination of certain population groups were therefore unfounded. The researchers believe that this is because the people working in the control rooms have a wide range of ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds.
- Overt surveillance: the presence of large numbers of police officers and police cars in and around nightlife areas is counter-productive. Visitors become anxious or uneasy and actually feel unsafe because they think something is happening, or will do soon.
- Friendly surveillance: what works better is “friendly” surveillance, such as the stewards (young people) deployed by the municipality of Rotterdam. It is also possible to use stewards who travel around by bicycle or on foot.
- Role of bars and clubs: bouncers are increasingly involved in implementing municipal safety policy in nightlife areas. In Utrecht, however, it was discovered that they have very little input into policy and that their responsibilities and rights are unclear. There is also a lack of training for bouncers.
- Ambience: surveillance policy is very much influenced by safety, the fear of incidents and disorder and the desire to prevent this. More attention should be paid to ambience and spontaneity, which also contribute to a good nightlife scene.
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