(A report by Christian Allen, Head of Environmental Operations)
The Committee received a report by the Head of Environmental Operations, requested by Members at the meeting on 30th January, regarding the decision to leave Central Park open at all times of the day and night and any evidence that might exist demonstrating this decision had had an impact on crime and anti-social behaviour within the park.
The report concluded that no factual evidence was available to support the assertion that leaving the park open had caused or increased crime or anti-social behaviour in the park. In fact, reported incidents were higher in 2016, when the park was locked, than since the time the park had been left open.
Evidence would suggest that reintroducing locking of the park would have no impact in reducing incidents of crime and anti-social behaviour. Consultation with the Portfolio Holder for Leisure Services and Open Spaces had revealed that Inspector Morrice had suggested that if the gates to Central Park were locked it could make matters (of crime and anti-social behaviour) worse not better.
Alternative options were available to the Committee to increase opportunities to deal decisively with individuals who committed offences by installing more effective CCTV systems, which could be funded from budgets already approved.
Leaving the park open delivered a recurring annual budget saving of £8,100. If a decision was taken to lock the park each evening, the cost of providing this service could be provided for consideration by BTAC Members, however the crime and anti-social behaviour evidence did not support this.
BTAC Members might wish to consider the option of investing in CCTV camera technology to help identify individuals who committed offences, caused damage or anti-social behaviour. A budget of £10,200 was provided by the Committee to fund installation of CCTV cameras at Sheldon’s Field and Woodville Road play areas. This budget remained unspent due to technical difficulties preventing these installations progressing; therefore, an opportunity existed to re-allocate these funds to upgrade existing CCTV equipment in Central park.
It would be possible to replace all three cameras in Central Park with new, night-capable cameras as soon as the Council’s CCTV operating system had been upgraded, which was due to be in place by September 2019. Replacement of these cameras with new, 200m capable infrared units could be met within the budget previously agreed for cameras at Sheldon’s Field and Woodville Park. New, infra-red cameras would provide CCTV Operators with enhanced low light capability that would enable more effective monitoring of crime and anti-social behaviour. Following the upgrade to the Council’s CCTV operating system, set to be approved by the Council as part of the 2019/20 budget, night-capable cameras could be purchased, installed and commissioned for approximately £2,000 per unit (as opposed to equivalent Panasonic units at approximately £6,500 per unit).
The Council had continued investment in its CCTV systems, which regularly drove Police and anti-social behaviour operations, providing evidence in a wide range of crime and anti-social behaviour cases. Between April 2017 and January 2019, CCTV Operators dealt with 2,924 incidents, 2,805 out of hours’ calls and contributed to 1,102 arrests. The Head of Environmental Operations confirmed that these figures were collected by the CCTV operators for the Boston area.
During Members’ debate, the report was welcomed. There was a view that the decision not to lock the gates should have been taken in consultation with Members, but there was satisfaction that keeping the park open had not caused an increase in crime and anti-social behaviour.
There was support for the suggestion that funding originally ring-fenced for the installation of CCTV at Sheldon’s Field and Woodville Road play areas, which could not be spent due to local technical difficulties, to be reallocated to fund the upgrading of the CCTV cameras in Central Park, though this could not take place until the upgrade of the CCTV operating system had been completed. This would help identify those who did commit offences, which often seemed to be during the daytime. It was felt that young people using the park to play football would want to do so beyond the previous time for locking the park, particularly in the summer.
Members remarked that this report had been requested following the significant amount of comment on social media about not locking the park and yet not one member of the public had attended to express any concerns. It was believed that Inspector Morrice’s comment that locking the park could make matters worse referred to the inevitable delay in Police accessing the park to attend incidents when the gates were locked.
1. Based on the evidence before the Committee, Members are satisfied that the gates to Central Park should remain unlocked;
2. The amount previously allocated to fund the installation of CCTV at Sheldon’s Field and Woodville Road play areas, being £10,200, be vired in full to upgrade the existing CCTV equipment in Central Park as soon as the Council’s CCTV operating system has been upgraded, which is due to be in place by September 2019.