Greens Ballina MP Tamara Smith says that if re-elected next month she is committed to funding CCTV cameras to help police combat a worsening crime situation in Ballina’s CBD.
Ms Smith says the initiative will improve safety, particularly for women. ‘With a fourth homicide in Ballina in as many years, unfortunately the town now qualifies as a hotspot for crime. There is a very real need to improve public safety and the time has come to implement a camera program like Byron Shire Council did across Byron township in 2015,’ she said.
‘Ballina police and successive Richmond Area Commanders have raised with me every year since I was elected the need for a comprehensive CCTV program across the Ballina CBD,’ said Ms Smith.
‘My office has received a large number of complaints from people feeling unsafe when they are in the centre of Ballina in the evening – especially from women.
‘Ballina Shire Council approved the installation of a number of cameras in the town’s CBD some time ago as part of the Smart Cities program, following growing public concern about an increase in criminal activity at night.
‘Today I am committing to deliver the money for council to develop and implement a holistic plan in consultation with police, as well as improved lighting in key areas.’
Ballina police welcome more cameras
Ballina Police Inspector Bill McKenna told The Echo that police have been advocating for the installation of CCTV around Ballina shire for a while. ‘That would put us in line with other LGAs around here,’ he said.
‘We’re looking at this purely from a community safety perspective. The installation of CCTV cameras would act not only a deterrent, but give us the ability to identify and detect POI [persons of interest] that have committed offences, particularly serious offences.’
Are you able to give any recent examples in the Northern Rivers where this technology has made a difference? ‘I can specifically mention a case in Lismore in which a young girl was taken off the streets and seriously assaulted,’ said Inspector McKenna.
‘Without going into details, the CCTV in that instance enabled us to identify both a crime scene and an offender within an hour, and that person was taken off the streets and arrested by police.’
Inspector McKenna explained there were different ways CCTV information could be used by police. ‘Nimbin has a system whereby the council officer monitors the system on certain occasions. The Lismore system is managed through a council security officer. The Casino one is relayed back to the Casino Police Station and the Ballina one could be easily relayed back to Ballina Station.’
He said that with privacy issues in place, what his officers need is a system ‘that would allow us to view certain parts of the CBD, where we think it would be most beneficial.’
Inspector McKenna said the CCTV would not be physically monitored by police 24 hours a day, as a rule, but could be drawn on to gather evidence.
‘It’s a tool that we can use to identify those people committing offences within the CBD.’
He also thinks CCTV will deter people from committing offenses within the CBD area, including property crime, malicious damage to vehicles, or storefronts being damaged, with the possibility of real time monitoring when needed.
Four murders in four years
Ballina CBD has been the focus of national attention for homicides in recent years. Could CCTV have helped in those cases?
Inspector McKenna said that while CCTV would not necessarily have stopped those four murders occurring, it would have saved investigators a large amount of time spent door knocking individual businesses to build a jigsaw puzzle of video evidence.
He believes CCTV is unreservedly a good thing in terms of law enforcement. ‘Absolutely, I think it’s something that’s definitely needed.
‘People are using their mobile phones to record everything these days. But having one system in place that can be accessed to gather video information would greatly assist your local police investigators in stopping crime, deterring crime, but also apprehending offenders.’
Inspector McKenna says the existing CCTV at Lake Ainsworth has been helping curb vandalism, and he would like to see an expanded system covering hot spots in Lennox Head, Ballina and Alstonville. ‘That would make the community feel a lot safer in terms of them walking around after hours, going shopping, and so on.’
Ballina Mayor Sharon Cadwallader told The Echo, ‘I have been meeting with police, Chambers of Commerce and council staff over many years in relation to CCTV cameras, not only in Ballina CBD but Alstonville, Lennox Head and Pat Moreton Lookout as well. Police have offered assistance with monitoring as the cost doesn’t stop with the provision of the cameras.
‘There are many considerations before installation,’ she said.
Checks and balances
Ballina MP Tamara Smith emphasised that the CCTV cameras would be installed and operated with privacy concerns in mind.
‘Of course checks and balances need to be in place and I would not support any program that impinges on people’s civil liberties or privacy,’ she said. ‘Byron Shire Council has an excellent Code of Practice and recorded images are only used or disclosed for lawful purposes.’
Ms Smith said she was confident that a similar code would protect Ballina’s citizens, and that CCTV technology would improve safety for everyone in the CBD.
‘Our community has come out in strong support of providing greater safety for women, and I believe that this program will go some way towards delivering that,’ she said. ‘More broadly we want everyone – young people, our families, older folk, and our visitors to feel 100% safe to enjoy Ballina.’
Ms Smith thanked Ballina Police Inspector Bill McKenna and officers of the Richmond Command for raising the issue of safety for women and advocating for measures to protect vulnerable members of the community.
‘I wish we weren’t at this point,’ she said, ‘but it is time, and I believe a program of CCTV cameras across the CBD will go some way to making the town a less intimidating place to visit at night. Ballina’s businesses, community and nightlife will all benefit as a result.’
And the worstening crime has nothing to do with the newly established pod flood relief village on Ballina island? Seems like a medical way of addressing the problem, treat the symptoms not the cause. Just ask the residents of Catherine Crescent and surrounds.