A council plan to install a series of closed circuit television cameras on Oxford Street to stem continuing anti-gay violence has won cautious support from community groups and some local businesses but angered others.
Critics of the scheme claim the CCTV system would undermine privacy.
After a meeting with business and community representatives on Friday, the City of Sydney announced its plan to place seven CCTV cameras in areas identified by police as trouble hotspots.
If approved by council, the cameras could be in operation by the end of the year, adding to the city’s 60 existing CCTV cameras.
A City of Sydney spokesperson told Sydney Star Observer ongoing homophobic violence on the strip was certainly a major part of the CCTV initiative.
He said the cameras would monitor crime including assault and drug trading but would not be used to target drug users or sex workers.
The public would not have access to footage and police requests would need to be approved. Footage would be discarded after 21 days, unless police requested otherwise.
Trained camera operators employed by the city -“ not a separate company -“ ran the CCTV system, the spokesperson said.
Detective Inspector David Egan-Lee from Surry Hills Police told the Star police had already identified locations for the cameras, based on crime records.
The proposed spots are: near Oxford, Commonwealth and College St; at Oxford and Pelican St; at Oxford and Riley St; at Oxford and Crown St; at Oxford and Bourke St; at Oxford and Forbes St overlooking Taylor Square; and at Bourke St also overlooking Taylor Square.
Police will decide exact locations if council approves the plan.
The two up around Taylor Square [would be there] predominantly because that is our primary hotspot -¦ for assaults, robberies, anti-social behaviour, Egan-Lee said.
Oxford Street between Pelican and College St was another problem area.
He estimated around 60 percent of assaults recorded in the whole Surry Hills Local Area Command took place on the strip.
The CCTV plan has won conditional backing from ACON and local retailers’ group Darlinghurst Business Partnership, but both say the cameras would be only a partial solution to anti-gay violence.
For 10 years the [ACON] Anti-Violence Project and police and council have been trying to do something about violence in Oxford Street, and we’re still seeing at least the same if not worse levels of violence, ACON chief executive Stevie Clayton told the Star.
So we’re willing to look at anything that might help to decrease the amount of violence and impact on our community.
I think the really important thing for us is that we insist that this be part of a comprehensive program.
ACON remains unhappy with Surry Hills Police’s decision last year to replace one main gay and lesbian liaison officer (GLLO) with an arrangement in which several officers share GLLO duties.
It’s really important in an area with such a large gay and lesbian population that there be a full-time GLLO who can actively participate in community committees and consultation processes, Clayton said.
Darlinghurst Business Partnership chair Phil Wharton said local businesses supported CCTV cameras in trouble hotspots.
[But] the police have got to be on the ball. It can’t be used as an excuse for less policing, Wharton told the Star.
Darlinghurst Business Partnership is also urging council not to use the cameras to monitor entry to sex-on-premises venues.
Oxford Street safety ambassador Maxi Shield was also cautiously optimistic about the CCTV plan after experiencing 40 minutes of hell while waiting for a taxi near Taylor Square early on Sunday morning.
I was abused, I had things thrown at me, I had guys stopping telling me to get in their car, Shield told the Star.
I think any sort of action is positive, but I think the one thing that we need to be chasing up is, if you’ve got the cameras, let’s hope there’s action.
You can sit there and have cameras but, if the police -¦ aren’t there or present, it’s [pointless].
Long-time Oxford Street retailer and Darlinghurst Business Partnership member Robert Tait has warned the cameras would diminish privacy on a street traditionally famed for its liberal attitude.
Outside of Darlinghurst Business Partnership I’m making a stand against this, Tait, from The Pop Shop, said.
It’s an infringement on our hard-fought right to privacy.
I’ve been in Oxford Street a long time and I love the sense of freedom and expression here and I don’t want that to be curtailed in any way.
This should be the last street in Australia to have CCTV. People should feel absolutely free to express themselves in any tragic or trashy way they want to, without the thought that someone might be using that.
Tait wrote to city councillors outlining his concerns earlier this week. He told the Star improved policing and opening a police station on Oxford Street would be better anti-gay violence strategies.