Keeping Southend residents and businesses safe is a key priority for the CCTV Control Room of Southend-on-Sea City Council.
Southend-on-Sea was an early adopter of CCTV and the technology went through a £2.2m upgrade in 2021. An extra 41 digital cameras placed in new areas alongside the 165 existing cameras across the whole city.
The new digital cameras have superior zoom and pan capabilities and produce images of a higher resolution, which has obvious benefits when identifying people for prosecution purposes. Everything feeds into Essex Police headquarters in Chelmsford, so they have direct access to CCTV footage evidence.
The Southend CCTV Control Room consists of a surveillance operations manager, two CCTV supervisors, nine CCTV operatives, as well as weekend operations coordinators. The whole team form part of the council’s community safety protection team.
Barry Davis, surveillance operations manager, oversees the running of the CCTV Control Room, which runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Barry is also chair of the Essex and East London CCTV Group.
Barry said: “There’s a saying I have which is ‘anything can happen at any time’ and that is why it’s crucial that our skilled CCTV operatives proactively monitor our cameras 24/7.
“Every day our CCTV footage is being used as evidence in criminal and civil court cases. We are currently averaging 60 evidential downloads a month and that’s just the cases that are going to court. We are here to help provide a safe environment.
“As well as gathering evidence, our role is also about the welfare and safety of colleagues and alerting them to the exact nature of the situation they are getting themselves into. We can usually confirm whether an incident even merits a response as it could just be a hoax call, so we can help save valuable police time and, as a result, the time of emergency services such as ambulance and fire services.”
Footage from the CCTV system has also been used to identify and address criminal behaviour, resulting in several positive outcomes including:
e-scooter hit and run rider caught after child injured in high street
In February 2023 a child was injured after being hit by an e-scooter in Southend High Street. The rider of the e-scooter fled but Southend CCTV operatives had been monitoring the scene and followed the perpetrator around town and alerted CSOs and BID Ranger colleagues, who apprehended the rider and seized the e-scooter. The rider was reported for traffic related offences, whilst the young boy was taken to hospital.
Hit and run driver tracked and convicted
During a group altercation outside TALK nightclub in Lucy Road in 2017, CCTV operatives became aware of a suspicious vehicle and noted it’s registration. The driver of the car ran two people over and fled the scene. Southend’s CCTV team tracked the vehicle and communicated with Essex Police, and the car was tracked back to London and the driver was arrested and eventually convicted – using the CCTV footage as evidence.
Sex offender tracked and apprehended
A sex offender had escaped custody on Christmas Day in 2016 and the only information the CCTV had was that he was somewhere in Southend – there was no photo, just a description. It was down to the skill and initiative of one of the CCTV operatives that resulted in the offender being caught – purely based on his behaviour and the clothes he wore. Successful surveillance like this relies on gut instinct and reading body language.
Seafront altercation results in buried gun being found on beach
A seafront altercation in 2015 resulted in a gun being waved about and the CCTV team were monitoring the situation and alerted colleagues to ensure an appropriate response. The person with the gun was also filmed burying it in the sand and this was all captured on CCTV. The CCTV team were able to direct police to the exact spot on the beach to find the gun and it led to an arrest. This incident and how the team worked together was even featured in a Channel 5 documentary.
A huge factor in the CCTV Control Room’s success is being a part of the Townlink digital radio scheme, a partnership with Shopsafe that covers the whole of Southend. The system enables the team to communicate and coordinate with a wide range of people and organisations to share intel.
Barry Davis, surveillance operations manager, said: “We have the fastest growing radio service in England! We have 176 active users on our Townlink radio system consisting of police, BID rangers, community safety officers and businesses. This provides quicker responses and resolutions and is a great example of partnership working. Our CCTV operatives feed off intel and the more we are given the more proactive we can be. This is where the Townlink scheme is invaluable.”
Cllr Martin Terry, cabinet member for public safety, added: “Our CCTV Control Room does a fantastic job 24/7, every day of the year, to prevent crime and improve community safety. They don’t always get the recognition they deserve, because they operate behind the scenes, but they play a vital role in supporting the police and community safety colleagues.
“The £2.2m CCTV upgrade and growth of the Townlink radio system, highlights how much stronger and safer we are when we all work together to keep our residents safe. This great partnership work has no doubt played its part in Southend retaining its prestigious Purple Flag status for its evening and night-time economy for a tenth consecutive year.”