Archive | October, 2012

Now they see us, now they don’t…

10 Oct

Firstly I must begin by expressing my thanks to Brownhills Bob for the publicity he gave my last blog post. Secondly I would like to thank other local bloggers and tweeters who were also kind enough to read and redistribute my work. This newest post is a follow up to a piece that Bob ran last month about the appearances of a mystery CCTV camera in Friezland Lane, Walsall Wood.

Thanks to the recently censored Sgt John De-Hayes of West Midlands Police and other local contributors it was quickly established that the mystery camera belonged to Walsall Housing Group. WHG claimed they had informed residents in writing about the camera albeit they failed to provide public signage.

Moving forward a few weeks and I found myself in hot pursuit of a moggie, which in turn was chasing a squirrel just beyond St. James Church Cemetery on Great Charles Street. After realising that both of my potential targets could climb fences far more effectively than myself, I slowed to a canter and continued up Great Charles Street abandoning my pursuit in the process. On the corner of Great Charles Street and Vernon Avenue I happened to glance skywards whereupon I spied a recently installed CCTV camera affixed to a lamp-post.

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22nd September 2012

This camera is operated by Walsall Council, who unlike Walsall Housing Group, have decided to comply with the Data Protection Act in a far more straightforward way, by placing two signs underneath, one clearly stating that they are running the scheme, why it is in place and how to contact them for further information, the other banning ball games – I find this a strange combination, not to mention unfair on ball loving canniness.

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22nd September 2012 – On reflection, the No Ball Games sign may be unrelated

Interestingly however, this camera’s location was only short lived. A few weeks later, still outraged about the ‘No Ball Games’ sign I summed up the courage to return to the spot with my best tennis ball and make a formal protest under the CCTV camera. However, upon arrival the camera had vanished.

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10th October 2012

Dismayed that my civil disobedience was to go unrecorded I slumped off in the direction of Vicarage Road. However, just as I had given up hope of being able to play ball under the watchful eye of the local authorities I spotted the cameras new home, now attached to the lamp-post at the top of Ogley Crescent.

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10th October 2012 – Binoculars required to read the sign

It seems that our Council have gotten quite a taste of using CCTV in built up residential areas, an interesting development. Now, I must make my position clear. I am not against the use of CCTV for the prevention of crime and anti-social behaviour in our towns and city centres. However, bringing it in to residential areas does pose a few questions.

There have been several cases in the past decade that I am aware of, where individuals responsible for monitoring CCTV in residential areas have used their position to make and store inappropriate images. Sadly I no longer have the links to these stories, however they include CCTV operatives recording people in various states of undress in their bathrooms, living rooms gardens and so forth. It is a criminal offence to do so and offenders are often forced to sign the sex offenders register as part of their punishment.

I am not trying to argue that this sort of behaviour is inevitable, however have a look at this CCTV footage that has made its way on to Youtube and then consider whether you would be comfortable with a council run dome camera sitting a few metres outside of your bedroom window.

In view of all of this I would like Walsall Council to answer these basic questions:

1) How is the need for the use of CCTV in residential areas established?

2) Where are images recorded and which staff / contractors have access to them?

3) After deciding to use CCTV in a residential area how often is the need for the continued use of each installation reviewed?

4) What if anything is done to physically prevent cameras being able to view the inside of domestic dwellings? – By this I refer to cameras being programmed to pixelate, computer generated blackout or other means of image distortion when cameras pan across a field of view that looks in to a dwelling

5) If the answer to Q4 is, ‘Nothing, we trust our staff not to do this’ then how often is footage audited to ensure correct use?

I sincerely hope that someone from the council can comment on this, so that we are all aware of the current policy and safeguards that are in place to prevent abuse of CCTV systems in such intimate locations. I am not trying to argue that CCTV in these types of area is a good or bad thing per se, only that it is a subject that needs close attention and careful monitoring if local residents are to be kept on board.

To finish, may I also respectfully request that any footage found of a small dog chasing a ball in a restricted ball-game area is deleted and not passed on to the local dog warden for intelligence purposes. Otherwise, I look forward to hearing from the council. Many thanks

The peasants are revolting

3 Oct

Anyone familiar with the excellent work of  Brownhills Bob will note that he has previously documented the utter contempt that Tesco have shown towards our town. Not merely content with leaving Brownhills High street destitute, our favourite ‘local’ retailer have seen it fit to insult us further with a minor renovation of the store, in the hope we will forget about their abandonment of Ravens Court and the Market Site.

Earlier this week whilst sniffing around I noted a chap struggling to return a trolley to one of the newly installed bays in the car park. I am sure you have all noticed that unlike the more affluent areas of the West Midlands, here in Brownhills we are only allowed a trolley on the proviso that we first place a £1 deposit in the on-board locking mechanism.

This lack of trust is perhaps disturbing enough, but the real piss take is noted in the picture below.

What’s the problem?

Perhaps this isn’t quite clear enough, have a closer look…

Empty Bay

Ignore the abandoned trolleys behind the ‘Zone 1′ return point and look at the horizontal wooden bar that runs across the centre of the picture. The reason the chap was struggling to return his trolley was owing to the fact that in order to get his quid back he either needed another trolley to be present, or he needed to use a fitted chain which should be attached to the horizontal wooden bar with an unlocking key attached to it.

When the bay is empty the fitted keychain allows the first trolley to go back in, subsequently allowing further trolleys to be returned. Every single trolley return point suffers from the same problem, unless there is already a trolley present, shoppers have to walk back to the main entrance of the store to return their carriage.

Now, let’s be honest, this isn’t a major issue for most people. I should imagine anyone with young children or those who lack mobility may find it a bit of a pisser to get back across the car park to return their trolley. However it does clearly demonstrate the amount of thought, effort and energy that has been put in to the Tesco turd -polish.

Perhaps Tesco can tell us why they have put up half a dozen ‘ceremonial’ shelters in their car park, which serve no purpose other than to frustrate shoppers at the end of their custom?

I am guessing that the fixed keychains must be forged  from the same ‘purest unobtainium’ that was used for the cycle rack at the front of the store… either that or this just another example of Tesco trying to make things look pretty without giving a damn if their store really meets the needs of its customers.

Anyone with half a brain from the store management team could have surely resolved this? Perhaps the senior staff were all too busy posing for their glossy cardboard cut-outs that adorn the store façade to notice, or perhaps Tesco really just don’t give a shit about you, me or the town that we live in.

Whichever it is, I am prepared to bet this situation goes unresolved for the indefinite future…

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