Find out what it's like being a Salisbury CCTV volunteer

Salisbury needs more CCTV volunteers. The unpaid helpers would join the team at Bourne Hill, monitoring the CCTV system at key times.

Jointly funded by Salisbury City Council and Salisbury BID, Salisbury CCTV has been operating since September 2018, when the system was passed from Wiltshire Council to Salisbury City Council.

The team helps keep our city a safer place to live, work and visit, but what is it really like being a CCTV operator? One of the newest members has been describing their experience:

A day in the life of a Salisbury CCTV operator

It’s 10am in a small room within Bourne Hill.  The far wall comprises a huge screen with 16 assorted camera views of streets, car-parks and pedestrian areas.

In front is a wide console with radios, microphones, laptops and two TV monitors.  One has a single view, the other another four.  At the console sits the CCTV operator, a second trainee-operator (me) is manning a separate smaller desk with two more monitors.

Suddenly the radio comes to life.

“Hello Charlie Whisky this is Sierra two-seven.”

“Two-seven go ahead, over.”

“Charlie Whisky be advised that two persons on the POI file are currently in Priory Square approaching Fisherton Street. Both are carrying large bags, over.”

I turn on the POI file.  A and B are indeed “Persons Of Interest” and are known prolific shoplifters.

The controller cuts to camera 5 and spots them straight away, keeping them in tight close-up and panning with them.

“OK, got them.  We’ll keep an eye on them.  Charlie Whisky out.”

As he logs the report I line up the Fisherton Street, Maltings, Silver Street, and High Street cameras ready for whichever way they turn after leaving the camera 5 view.  Hopefully, if and when they enter a shop we’ll have tipped off the store security people, and they’ll be close enough to prevent any theft.

Deterring, investigating and helping to solve crime is one of the main purposes of Charlie Whisky (City Watch) - the callsign for Salisbury’s CCTV system.  But that’s just one of its jobs.  Another is looking out for missing persons or vulnerable people, such as Alzheimer’s sufferers who have become lost or disoriented.

Often car-insurance companies contact us in the hope that an accident will have been caught on camera.  Or the police will request our assistance in tracing the movements of vehicles or individuals on particular dates.  The city’s 64 cameras operate 24 hours a day, and recordings are kept for 31 days before being wiped.

And there’s the night economy.  The vast majority of the hundreds of youngsters thronging the city centre on Saturday nights between 10pm and 3.00am are just out for a good time.  But there are also potential trouble-makers, and it’s surprising how skilled the experienced operators are at spotting them, and advising door-staff of various clubs, bars and fast-food outlets about who to watch out for.

I became a licensed Security Operative as a result of an appeal last summer.  It all sounded pretty straightforward but in reality applicants are subject to very detailed police vetting and must then go through three days of intensive training and assessment by outside consultants.

You study – and are examined about – the complex legal limitations of coverage (and, before you ask, all private windows are electronically blocked out) and the tightly controlled process involved in responding to Police requests for access to CCTV coverage.

I’ve learned about the Shop-watch and Pub-watch systems we have in place; and about the admirable night-time care provided by the Street Pastors.  And I know how important it is to watch out for the vulnerable – especially women making their way home alone during the small hours.

The CCTV volunteers are a disparate group. What we have in common is a desire to do something which is socially important, and a readiness to commit to offering 16 hours a month watching the screens at Charlie Whisky.

Next steps

The CCTV team is on the look out for more volunteers. Could you help?

Richard Goodman, CCTV Manager, said: “We are building on our team of volunteers to help make Salisbury a safer place to live, work and visit. I have six places on a CCTV Operators course in June; if you have the time and the commitment to learn the role and put in 16 hours a month, please get in touch for more information.”

If you are interested in volunteering as a CCTV Operator, please contact Richard Goodman by emailing Rgoodman@salisburycitycouncil.gov.uk

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