Published: 00:01, 14 September 2018
| Updated: 00:26, 14 September 2018
In a small room tucked away at the end of a narrow corridor in Canterbury City Council’s Military Road offices, a team of 11 people scours the district’s streets day and night.
As one of the country’s most-watched places, it is safe to say the staff who monitor the 360 surveillance cameras across Canterbury, Herne Bay and Whitstable have seen it all.
From the mundane to the bizarre - and sometimes downright distressing - a shift can involve watching the antics of drunk students, street violence and even suicides unfold in real time.
Positioned in the busiest and most crime-hit streets, CCTV cameras captured almost 3,000 incidents last year, evidence from which contributed to more than 270 arrests. They also help the emergency services with missing person cases and urgent call-outs.
“It can be extremely harrowing,” control room manager Colin Perris said.
“We’ve seen people jumping off multi-storeys and we’ve seen people getting beaten up, but we’ve also seen funny things – it’s so diverse.
“We’ve got a camera with a white light on it – if you put that on at 3am in a car park, everyone runs out of the way.
“If some of the evidence that we’ve had came to light on YouTube we would make a fortune.”
At any one time, the control room has two people, who work four 12-hour shifts per week, manning the computers and wall of screens in front of them.
Late on Sunday, September 2, they saw a “disorientated man” with facial injuries traipsing through the city centre naked from the waist down.
“He was taken into a local club where the police were called,” Mr Perris said.
“It’s not a rare occurrence,” Mr Perris said. “When you get high-spirited students out enjoying themselves you get those kinds of things happening.”
In July alone, the control room helped prevent a sexual assault, aided the police’s arrest of a man wielding a knife and supported their investigations into 127 public order incidents across the district.
Many of the cameras range in value from £4,000 to £6,000 and are regularly maintained and replaced, when needed.
However, there is speculation that many of them do not work - something Mr Perris denies.
“We’re not CSI,” he says. “We don’t have facial recognition software units – But we do the best we can with some of the best equipment that we’ve got.
“The image quality is sufficient for the police to use in court. It’s state-of-the-art stuff; we can zoom from Central Parade in Herne Bay up to Reculver Towers and still get a crisp image.
“When we hear people say the cameras aren’t working, we’d like to know which ones because nine times out of 10 they are working.”
Mr Perris says the cameras have been positioned in “places and areas of interest”, singling out Club Chemistry and the McDonald’s in the city centre St George’s Street, Canterbury, as examples.
He confirms there are “probably three areas” in Canterbury where cameras could be installed, namely one in Sturry Road.
“But there’s not very much more on the coast we can cover,” he adds. “Maybe a place on the outskirts of Herne Bay, which we can’t see and where we know there was evidence of vandalism last year.”
While Mr Perris noted the district’s “crime statistics are so low”, he has noticed a “shift in recent years” that has resulted in Canterbury becoming livelier during the night.
“The night-time economy has got a lot busier with the students coming into the city,” he says.
“When they’ve students have got their grants and are out for a good night, then you can guarantee the city’s going to be busy.”