By Sharon Wright, CCTV manager, Sevenoaks District Council
This year during the Coronavirus lockdown, CCTV control rooms across the UK have demonstrated how vital and flexible this key service is. CCTV operators – deemed as key workers – monitored our towns and communities in a safe controlled environment, reporting and relaying live images straight to the police and emergency services.
I wanted to share with you our experience from Sevenoaks District Council control room, along with some of the incidents we have been involved in.
Throughout this pandemic, Sevenoaks District Council CCTV control room remained open with CCTV operators issued with essential staff letters from the council, just in case they were stopped on their way to work during the first lockdown.
The CCTV operators also manage the emergency out-of-hours services for the council, dealing with hundreds of COVID-19 calls requesting food parcels, prescription collections and much more. In total, our CCTV team have dealt with more than 2000 calls since March 2020.
We also monitored social distancing, licensed premises, crime and public safety, while supporting the police and partners, without personal contact or putting anyone in danger.
Monitoring the town centre during lockdown revealed the resilience and flexibility of the CCTV service, and our team has dealt with many significant incidents that would not have been possible without CCTV.
A young schoolboy was walking down a main road in Sevenoaks after school on his way home, when an offender exposed himself to the young boy. The police had very little to go on as the description from the victim was vague.
However, our team reviewed hours of footage from the town and were able to find and identify a suspect matching the description. Kent Constabulary confirmed that due to our CCTV footage, they had been able to positively identify the male, who was a previous offender, and he was arrested. The police said this was a high-profile case and this male was wanted for other offences.
The time from the incident to the arrest was greatly reduced thanks to the efforts of our team, the police told us. The incident happened on a Monday and the police were able to arrest the suspect the following Thursday – a “great result” in the words of the police.
I believe this demonstrates our excellent partnership working to its full potential, helping to get this sort of offender off our streets.
Investigation following death at castle
Our CCTV team was able to help in the investigation of the death of an elderly man at Lullingstone Castle in Kent during lockdown.
Police were called to the castle following reports of a disturbance. A 66-year-old man was discovered at the scene and later pronounced deceased by the ambulance service.
Two youths were reported to have been involved in an altercation with the man. Based on descriptions, our CCTV operators were able to identify suspects involved in another incident nearby on the same day.
The investigating officer wrote to us, saying:
“I can confirm that the CCTV we obtained from yourselves was absolutely instrumental in identifying the suspects who were arrested. We had very little to go on to identify suspects, but it was images from your CCTV which proved to be the breakthrough we desperately needed in the case. It was from this that all further enquiries developed to identify the suspects and solidify their connection to the offence. It would be no exaggeration to say that without the CCTV from Lullingstone Country Park Visitors Centre, suspects may never have been identified in this high-profile… enquiry .
Many thanks for you and your team’s assistance in the case. It has been invaluable.”
Drunk and disorderly
CCTV monitored a drunk male behaving erratically and aggressively outside a pub in Sevenoaks. The CCTV team rang the pub who confirmed the male had been kicked out for criminal damage.
CCTV continued to monitor him acting very strangely until out of camera range. A few hours later that evening the police called and ask if we could keep an eye out for a male matching the description of the same male that CCTV had been monitoring earlier. He had reportedly assaulted a man out of town, but it was thought he might return.
CCTV later saw the male staggering back into town where he got into a vehicle. Our team immediately updated the police of direction of travel and continued to do so until the vehicle was stopped. The male was arrested for drunk driving and assault. He was also wanted for threatening behaviour.
Police broadcast on the radio that a suicidal male had rung in from Edenbridge, threatening to jump from a bridge. CCTV operators located the male straddling the bridge at Edenbridge train station. We updated the police and linked live images to them.
Police arrived on scene but could not find the male from the road, but CCTV operators were able to direct police to the male’s location. The police managed to talk down the male and get him medical help.
Possession of offensive weapon
In the early hours one day this December, CCTV operators saw a male in a phone box in New Ash Green. He was seen opening a large bottle of Stella and drinking it.
Later that morning, CCTV operators saw him putting a baseball bat, that was concealed under clothing, on the back seat of a car and driving off.
We updated the police with direction of travel. Police later stopped the vehicle. The male was arrested for drink and drug driving and also for possession of an offensive weapon.
These are all incidents that without CCTV may not have been solved or most certainly would have taken the police a lot longer. CCTV has shown how resilient and effective it can be during the pandemic and in times of lockdown.
* Sharon Wright is CCTV manager at Sevenoaks District Council. She is also chair of the Kent area CCTV managers group and a Member of The CCTV User Group.
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