Big Brother plan for Kiwi towns

JENNA LYNCH AND MARYANNE TWENTYMAN
Last updated 05:00 06/07/2013

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Every town in the country should have CCTV cameras to installed to help in the fight against crime.

That's the opinion of one top officer, retiring after 30 years in the force, and who in the course of his career worked some of the country's most notorious crimes

Retiring Detective Sergeant Glenn Tinsley, formerly of the Waihi Crime Investigation Bureau, was heavily involved in both Operation Sara - the murder of Sara Niethe in 2003 - and Operation Olive - the murder of Paeroa Pizza man Jordan Voudouris in June 2012, two investigations he says would have been a lot easier with the help of technology.

He says if the government and public want to "get serious" about crime prevention, the first step should be a rollout of CCTV cameras coupled with plate recognition technology.

He reckons cameras - paid for by local councils, the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) and ACC levies - should be installed at the entry and exit points of every town.

"If you had a camera set up in all towns either side of Whangamata, Whitianga, Tairua, Coromandel the same, even the [Kopu] bridge at Thames; everything that moves - you are going to catch it," he said.

"So if there is serous crime going down you are going to know what has moved in and out of that town and to have that facility would really assist in any investigation and would be so easy to have."

He cites the case of RSA triple-murderer William Bell, who was convicted in 2002 of murdering Bill Absolum, Wayne Johnson and Mary Hobson, and of attempting to murder Susan Couch during a robbery of the Wellington-Panmure RSA.

Bell bashed each of them with the butt of a shotgun, then fled, but a police operation found surveillance of him, which led to his downfall.

"The surveillance footage we got of that guy was outstanding.

"The footage showed Bell getting a shopping trolley - he took all his stuff from the stolen car and took it to Otara shopping area. We knew he got to Manukau shopping centre and from the vision we were able to work out that he took a taxi," Mr Tinsley said.

But while he says most Kiwis are already on camera every day without realising it and have to get used to it, officials wary of recent government spying wrangles say it could be a step too far.

Police Association president, Greg O'Connor agreed the merits of the technology have been proven, but doesn't think the public would buy it.

"One thing overseas forces have found, particularly in Britain is that the Automatic Plate Recognition technology is invaluable when it comes to catching criminals, because most criminals use vehicles.

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"But as we're seeing with the debate surrounding the GCSB at the moment, society is always going to put limits on the amount of surveillance technology they'll allow the authorities to use."

Mr O'Connor said while police would welcome the technology with open arms, it could throw off the balance of safety versus surveillance.

Privacy lawyer John Edwards said the idea was concerning as it involved a mass collection of private data - largely from people who have done nothing to warrant police intervention in their lives - just to identify a few criminals.

"Just because you can do it, doesn't mean you should do it," he said.

"I mean you can put a camera in everyone's living room to stop domestic violence, but should we?"

Waikato District Commander Superintendent Win Van der Velde said there was a fine line between a safe community and a fearful one.

"There's always got to be that balance between an environment where they feel safe and are safe and an environment where they feel like they're being watched."

The biggest challenge in implementing such a system would be the cost, he said.

And while the NZTA has budgeted $1 billion through to fund road policing and road safety promotion, a spokesman said law enforcement was a matter for the police.

Mr Tinsley says the Big Brother fear is valid, but in reality the cameras are already there and at the end of the day, it's a small price to pay for a safe community.

"When you go down the main street of Hamilton you don't think about being on CCTV. "Who are we protecting? You do have to have some control, but having passive CCTV cameras is such a great crime prevention tool - it just makes sense."

- Waikato Times

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