Keeping an eye on criminal behaviour

Reporter Chris Amery in St Helens Council's CCTV Suite
Reporter Chris Amery in St Helens Council's CCTV Suite
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There are countless CCTV cameras trained on streets throughout St Helens, helping to keep the public safe. The St Helens Reporter’s Chris Amery spent a morning with the staff who man the centre to find out what goes on behind the lens.St Helens Council’s crack team of CCTV operators has helped catch criminals, break up fights and provide police with crucial evidence to help secure convictions.

But it’s not all drunken brawls and high-octane police chases, as I discovered on my visit to the borough’s top secret CCTV suite.

Filled with tens of thousands of pounds worth of equipment, and manned 24/7, the state-of-the-art suite features 22 monitors which, at the touch of a button, can be linked to any one of the borough’s 120 cameras.

Each of the CCTV cameras can also be manoeuvred up and down, left and right and have a zoom focus to enable operators to study incidents more closely.

There are also computer screens on each desk and a dedicated desk to enable operators to review earlier footage.

The chief CCTV operator, who, for operational reasons, cannot be identified, said: “This system was put into St Helens in 1998 to aid crime reduction and safety and that is solely what it’s there for - to make sure it’s safe for people to come into St Helens.

“We’ve had lots of success stories. It’s not like spying either - we only zoom in if we suspect there is something untoward going on.”

During quieter periods the operators will typically keep an eye on the town centre as well as cash machines and hotspots in outlying areas.

But when there is a big event in the town centre - such as a Saints home match - it really is all hands to the pump.

He added: “We have very close links with the police and our radio system links us with all the shops on shopwatch and all the pubs on pubwatch - all of which have their own individual call signs.

“When an incident occurs the police often contact us to ask us to help them track a suspect - and it’s very rewarding when it comes off.

“Among our other success stories was when we helped to find a guy with dementia who had gone walkabout in the town centre and caught hoax 999 callers in the act.

“You do see the odd amusing incident too. Back in the late 90s a mass brawl broke out on Duke Street and a man dressed as Elvis jumped right into the middle of it to break it up. People were so confused that the fight was over almost as soon as it started.

“There was also another occasion when a drunken man attempted a karate-style roundhouse kick on a bin but ended up getting himself in a tangle and tripping himself up!”