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The City that Scolds
October 1, 2006 10:49 AM   Subscribe

"I don't think that form of public humiliation to get social control is the best form possible." Though in Middlesbourough that is exactly what's happening. Of course, it's not confined[mefi thead] to the one town, but this place has the most active form of public surveillance I've seen and they seem quite excited about it. Others are eager to try the system for themselves. Perhaps this will inspire theatre? Or you could learn to avoid the cameras. Is public safety destroying public discourse?
posted by cal71 (41 comments total)

 
great post. it has nothing to do with public safety. and it can only end badly.
posted by brandz at 10:53 AM on October 1, 2006


if it ends at all...I can imagine a lot of public spaces adopting this idea. Terrifying.
posted by cal71 at 10:58 AM on October 1, 2006


Well... public spaces are public. Why aren't these CCTV cameras streamed online for all to see? Possibly with a nice clicky Web 2.0 "I see a crime happening!" button nearby.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 10:59 AM on October 1, 2006


"Will the gentleman in the brown jacket stop ogling womens' breasts and permit the unseemly erection currently distending the front of his trousers to detumesce?"
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:06 AM on October 1, 2006


That is seriously fucked up.

Nanny-state, indeed.
posted by bshort at 11:17 AM on October 1, 2006


Well, they don't have to obey the voice. And I assume there is no real penalty for things like nicking a traffic cone - it's just irritating for the council road department if they do get rearranged on a Saturday night. If you've got a CCTV operator actively controlling the camera anyway, I don't really see that it's much worse to suggest to someone they stop being silly. It's not like a voice would come booming out saying "I suggest you put down the gun, you silly man" in a bank robbery or something - I assume they would still get the police.
posted by greycap at 11:19 AM on October 1, 2006


If you've got a CCTV operator actively controlling the camera anyway, I don't really see that it's much worse to suggest to someone they stop being silly.

yeah, piss on the parade. and while you're at it, give up all your rights to free assembly.
posted by brandz at 11:27 AM on October 1, 2006


(I hate to nitpick, but it's Middlesbrough.)
posted by handee at 11:28 AM on October 1, 2006


It's fascinating to observe the reactions to criticising people for public misbehaviour in one country, coming from the citizens of a different country which has just eliminated habeus corpus.

Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but don't consider the beam that is in your own eye?
posted by Hogshead at 11:36 AM on October 1, 2006


And I assume there is no real penalty for things like nicking a traffic cone

Of course there's a penalty. It's theft. Drunken teenagers are frequently arrested for it.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 11:41 AM on October 1, 2006


Middlesbrough, yes. Thanks.
posted by cal71 at 11:48 AM on October 1, 2006



Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but don't consider the beam that is in your own eye?

Who says we don't?
posted by spaltavian at 11:51 AM on October 1, 2006


"Will the gentleman in the brown jacket stop ogling womens' breasts and permit the unseemly erection currently distending the front of his trousers to detumesce?"

You mean the one in the control room?

I bet a lot more 'ogling' goes on behind the cameras then in front of it.
posted by delmoi at 11:56 AM on October 1, 2006


It's fascinating to observe the reactions to criticising people for public misbehaviour in one country, coming from the citizens of a different country which has just eliminated habeus corpus.

Only for non-citizens, I thin. There's a difference between something that effects only a few people horribly, and something straight out of a dystopia that effects everyone in the country.

Not that the difference is a good thing mind you, but it's definitely different.

Also, I never voted for a republican in my life, so I get to criticize all I want too.
posted by delmoi at 12:00 PM on October 1, 2006


Heh. This reminds me of occasional conversations I'll have with my (American) wife, where I'll occasionally cause offense by using the collective "you".

Phrases like "You love torture" and "you hate the Geneva convention" are particularly good ones.
posted by Artw at 12:07 PM on October 1, 2006


I bet a lot more 'ogling' goes on behind the cameras then in front of it.

You'd probably be right. From the second to last link: "In a Hull University study, 1 out of 10 women were targeted for “voyeuristic” reasons by male camera operators"
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:17 PM on October 1, 2006


Of course there's a penalty. It's theft. Drunken teenagers are frequently arrested for it.

That's not a penalty, it's the offence. And although I can't dig out any figures (I don't think recorded crime stats are stratified to that extent), I'm not convinced there are people frequently being arrested - if anything, it's the kind of thing that would warrant a penalty notice for disorder and no more. But to issue one of those, an officer has to actually catch someone in the act. So the actual penalty is probably rather weak and rarely applied. My point being that if you as a council have an objective to stop people committing low level crime or disorder like this, or want to enforce bylaws, this is actually far cheaper and less heavy-handed than in-the-flesh enforcement. (Assuming it works - I presume there hasn't been any evaluation yet). Yes, it's a bit creepy - but no more creepy than having CCTV in the first place, I think.
posted by greycap at 12:22 PM on October 1, 2006


In my country for a while there was a vogue for shops to have lifesize cardboard cutouts of police officers in prominent places. Allegedly this led to a drop in shop-lifting as people were reminded to behave better.

The point of these cameras and the voices is to get you to internalise obedience.Objectively, what compelled that guy to get off his bike? Nothing, other than the promptings of conscience, stimulated by the voice.

I think even in 1984 the cameras were not on all the time. Rather, there was an ever-present risk of observation.

Anyway, because fashion these days migrates up from the criminal classes, I predict a vogue for large sunglasses and broad-brimmed hats.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:30 PM on October 1, 2006


You jackin it?
posted by Space Coyote at 12:59 PM on October 1, 2006 [1 favorite]


It's only about controlling and intimidating the public, not ensuring their safety.

And how pathetic and nasty is it that someone who sits all day watching the public takes pleasure in scaring and commanding them like that.
posted by amberglow at 1:36 PM on October 1, 2006


I bet a lot more 'ogling' goes on behind the cameras then in front of it.

i used to be a security guard at a place where one could control the cameras and some of my co-workers had to be told not to be following the pretty girls around with them
posted by pyramid termite at 1:55 PM on October 1, 2006


+Great post, thanks
posted by donfactor at 2:41 PM on October 1, 2006


I'm not sure what to think. I lived in Middlesbrough for three years and some of its kids definitely need a bit of a sort out...though I don't know if this will help. It's something you're really conscious of there; there's always people milling about that place shouting at people or generally hanging around looking for something to do...and as judgemental as it sounds they're easy to spot. We all know that there are cameras, but a lot of people there don't act like anyones watching. It could help discourage a lot of people shit-stirring on those streets. It could shift the badness into areas where there aren't cameras. They're not going to shout at you if you're just minding your own business. As big brothery as it sounds on paper, this is probably not that bad an idea. Within reason.

One of my best experiences there was waving to one of the cameras and seeing it shake from side to side at me.
posted by 6am at 3:51 PM on October 1, 2006


I predict a vogue for large sunglasses and broad-brimmed hats.

OMG - Don't we already have the large sunglasses thing? It's all coming about, just as you say. Now where can a brother lay his hands on 20,000 sombreros?

One of my best experiences there was waving to one of the cameras and seeing it shake from side to side at me.

I find this creepy in a Dalek sort of way.
posted by Sparx at 3:57 PM on October 1, 2006


http://chavscum.co.uk/4images/details.php?image_id=5328

at the end of the day u lot are perfetic you aint got nuffink betta 2do than cuzz normal people on the internet you wud neva hav the ballz 2 say it to there faces so you do it frew a computer screen u are no betta or diffrent from any1 elc we are all human we ALL hav are good and bad falts remeba you are not perfect try lookin at your selfz it dosent make you look clever when you type a lill cuss on a comp screen it makez you look lyk an idiot that has nothing better to do wen there are at work in your lill computer jobz wateva yr doin at the moment(wankin over girlz that wud neva touch you) if you really wanna get frew to people that you h8 them go and say it to there faces please! lets make a site with picturez of you lot on and c what nastie things people could say about you because i know that none of you even hav pictures of your self because your ashamed to let any1 c please if you are as intelagent az you all think please act it and grow up xxxx tank you xxxx
posted by 6am at 4:09 PM on October 1, 2006


Hey, Riddly Walker has a login.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 4:14 PM on October 1, 2006


I predict a vogue for large sunglasses and broad-brimmed hats.

I predict a continued trend of hoodie tops and burbury caps.
posted by Artw at 4:41 PM on October 1, 2006


Ray Mallon came to prominence in Middlesbrough for introducing 'zero tolerance' policing, taking his cue from William Bratton in New York. Mallon was suspended, and Operation Lancet wound up, after allegations that informants were bribed. The inquiry was inconclusive, but Mallon remained something of a folk hero because he got results, albeit in dodgy ways. (In fact, the dodginess made him more popular.) Mallon's now the mayor, elected by a huge margin on a non-partisan platform with an emphasis on small-scale social order programmes.

I don't like CCTV Britain; but I especially don't like school-age scumbags lauding it over my home town. If you could replace the cameras with police patrols, or Kappa-sensitive arse-kicking machines, that would be fine by me. The rationale behind this? A couple of decades ago, people in those public spaces would do the 'policing'; now, they're fearful of getting stabbed for speaking up.

"I don't speak Italian and I don't speak Urdu," he said cryptically.

Oh, that's not cryptic at all: it's just a reference to Mallon's generation, which included plenty of Italian immigrants, and the current generation of Urdu-speaking Pakistani immigrants and their kids.
posted by holgate at 4:42 PM on October 1, 2006


i_a_j_s: AH HAHAHAHAHAHA, excellent.
posted by adamgreenfield at 4:46 PM on October 1, 2006


if you are as intelagent az you all think please act it and grow up xxxx tank you xxxx

PS - WEER IN UR TOWN LITERING UR SIDWALKZ
posted by pyramid termite at 6:04 PM on October 1, 2006


If you could replace the cameras with police patrols, or Kappa-sensitive arse-kicking machines, that would be fine by me. The rationale behind this? A couple of decades ago, people in those public spaces would do the 'policing'; now, they're fearful of getting stabbed for speaking up.

Well indeed. Fairly few young ratbags have the weaponry or the nuts to actually attack you, but once a few have, the average punter is leery of talking to them.

In fact regular beat police would be far better than CCTV. They would talk to people, for one thing, improving community relations and all that. For another, if your school-age scumbag actually had a knife, they very likely wouldn't wield it against a couple of burly coppers.

I would love to know whether a decline in the frequency of foot patrols correlates with a rise in violent crime on the streets - I bet it does.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 6:16 PM on October 1, 2006


So which town has the greatest number of surveillance cameras: Las Vegas or Middlesborough?

My money is on Las Vegas.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 6:39 PM on October 1, 2006


The responses of the people to "the voice" aren't surprising. I'm sure many of you have read or discussed some of the experiments run in this book. It's quite interesting for those who haven't, though.
posted by disgustipated at 8:06 PM on October 1, 2006


In the circumstances, I think I like this Voice of God stuff. That is, there are already cameras monitored by police officers (perhaps using identification software to ID everyone who goes by, so that no one who strolls down the street has the sort of anonymous privacy we all used to enjoy and take for granted), but people seem not to think of these cameras as people watching us. I want the camera operators to at least remind us that they are actually watching each of us, that the police are not using dummy cameras, but that they are really scanning the crowds and complaining when one of us doesn't behave like the rest of the crowd.

I'd much rather have real beat police (people on the sidewalks who also know my ID, but know it through personal contact and know that I'm a real person), but talking cameras are better than silent cameras. And besides "Keep off the grass!" announcements, a talking camera could let people know what's going on -- "Yes, we saw what happened. An emergency crew is on its way."
posted by pracowity at 12:34 AM on October 2, 2006


see also: panopticon, universal imprisonment
posted by fuq at 7:09 AM on October 2, 2006


The problem I have with this sort of thing - CCTV, ASBOs, etc - is that it's a complete failure to address the real issues of antisocial behaviour. You can cover the country with cameras and build a thousand superprisons, but it's hardly going to stop people from being paranoid and hostile towards authority and civil society. It's addressing the symptoms rather than the cure, and quite possibly making things worse. Rarely is the question asked: why is our children throwing rocks?

And that's not even mentioning any concerns about giving the government the power to arbitrarily declare any behaviour "antisocial" and then leer at you 24/7 to check whether you're doing it.
posted by stammer at 7:15 AM on October 2, 2006


Symptoms rather than the disease, even.
posted by stammer at 7:16 AM on October 2, 2006


talking cameras are better than silent cameras.

Yes, I think that may be true. Silent cameras are too easily ignored, they fade into the background and people forget that they're being watched. Reminding them once in a while that somebody is watching makes the social mood more overtly oppressive and paranoid. If the day is eventually to come when people realize that the collective harm done by ubiquitous surveillance outweighs the more easily measured benefits, this can only hasten it.
posted by sfenders at 8:32 AM on October 2, 2006


see also: panopticon, universal imprisonment

See also: 'zones, no-go'.

Anyway, I talked to my family about this, and they're amused that The American News came to visit, but also mentioned that it's only part of Mallon's initiative, which includes 'street wardens', local residents who provide something approaching a police presence in problem neighbourhoods.

Rarely is the question asked: why is our children throwing rocks?

Actually, the question's been asked quite a lot. It's a generational thing which goes back to 'Thatcher's Kids' growing up in environments with few jobs and limited investment in public services, and few authoritative voices around to tell them to stop acting like feral animals.

I'll say it again: I don't like CCTV Britain or the ASBO, but I've also seen the way that anti-social little shits ruin neighbourhoods. The patterns of urban life aren't like those in the US, where there's more living space and car ownership. Far more people walk to the shops or take buses, and if the local shopkeepers get sick of boarding up broken windows and close up business, then those neighbourhoods die: those who can move out do, while those who can't become reliant on others.

Think of it this way: are there many comparably-sized cities in the US (Hartford, CT; Syracuse, NY; Dayton, OH; Waco, TX) where you'd feel comfortable walking around the poorest neighbourhoods after dark? (I'd say 'the projects', but it's not really a like-for-like comparison with British public housing.) Or in daylight, for that matter? I think it's fair to say that most people give their local problem areas a wide berth, in the small comfort that any crime is confined to 'those areas'.
posted by holgate at 1:42 PM on October 2, 2006


Many eyes making safe streets is a well-known urban design maxim. The wardens sound like a great idea. We have had a similar (entirely volunteer though) operation here in New Zealand, the Maori Wardens, who patrol at night and keep an eye on the young people.

I can't really say why I prefer to be observed by someone in person, rather than through a lens, but I do.

"It's a generational thing which goes back to 'Thatcher's Kids' growing up in environments with few jobs"

In my country I think you could point to three things:
- a hard-code group of families who have been unemployed continuously since the oil shocks in the late 70s, where the parents are reliably drunk, stoned, and feckless.
- another group where the parents work all the hours God sends, leaving their kids to fend for themselves.
- ever-earlier maturity means you get young shits with the muscle mass and hormone levels of adult males and self control of three year olds.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:53 PM on October 2, 2006




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