After a very busy 36 hours (the Community Cohesion Conference, William Hague's visit and the signing of the Inter-Faith Commitment - see previous posts), I had planned to spend yesterday afternoon catching up on some paperwork.
But that plan was blown out of the water by this story in The Evening Standard.
It is based on a press release we issued a couple of weeks ago, which was covered in The Croydon Advertiser. The Standard picked it up, added a few inaccuracies (we're not the first council in London to do this, the cameras are not there to spy on people's neighbours and we haven't made use of anti-terrorist laws) and suddenly you have a front page story and I'm doing interviews for the BBC and ITN.
The facts are as follows. These cameras have been temporarily installed in two people's homes to gather evidence so that we can take action against a small group of young people who are making life a misery for everyone living in the area - intimidating people, dealing drugs and commiting acts of criminal damage. I have been canvassing in the area and many people tell me that they are scared to go out of their homes after dark. People are scared to come forward and give evidence in case they face retaliation so we need to find some other means to gather the necessary evidence to take action against these young people. That is why we are using covert surveillance, not to enforce parking regulations or check what people are putting in their wheelie bins.
When I was interviewed on BBC radio, someone called Charles Farrier from No CCTV was on at the same time objecting to what we are doing(he's quoted in The Evening Standard article saying that there is no evidence that these cameras will act as a deterrent: of course they won't Charles, the people causing the trouble don't know they're there, that's the whole point). My favourite moment was when the BBC correspondent said that everyone she had spoken to in Croydon supported the idea. With all due respect to Charles, my job as the Cabinet Member for Community Safety is to listen to local residents, not him. Virtually everyone I speak to tells me that crime and anti-social behaviour is their number one concern and I will therefore use every tool at my disposal to make Croydon a safer place to live and work.
I appreciate the civil liberty concerns - I am strongly opposed to ID cards, to the Government's attempts to extend detention with trial. But I really don't see what the concern is here. These are temporary cameras - they will be gone as soon as we have the necessary evidence. And the people who live in the area are entitled to their civil liberties - to walk the streets free from intimidation, to go to bed at night with worrying whether your car is going to get damaged. Those are liberties I am determined to defend.