Byline: CATHERINE JONES
LIVERPOOL is becoming a capital of cameras as the city comes under 24-hour CCTV scrutiny.
But is the system a safety blanket or a 1984-style big brother watching every move?
A total of 220 top-of-the-range security cameras have now been installed in the city centre and on all the main routes through north and south Liverpool.
The Citysafe scheme, rolled out over the last nine months, is the largest in the country and council leaders claim it will cement Liverpool's position as the safest in Europe.
Images are recorded digitally and footage has already been used to help secure convictions in court.
The system covers 13 Public Help Points, which are connected with the Citywatch control room.
Cameras in the area can be angled to let controllers see who is requesting help and emergency services can be called if necessary.
John Sayers, the city's assistant executive director for community safety, says so far 5,307 incidents have been logged, and 298 arrests made.
Mr Sayers said: 'It's intelligence-driven. All the cameras can be set to 'patrol'.
'We've had a lot of success when it first started with vandalism of bus shelters.
'The system was also used to gather evidence for a class A drugs deal in the city centre. There were 41 arrests made and when they were shown the video evidence, we had 39 guilty pleas.
'We estimated that alone saved pounds 250,000 in police and court time.'
The current system replaced 20 black-and-white cameras, which were watched by security staff in Clayton Square shopping centre.
It runs 24-hours-a-day, 365-days-a-year, under the beady eye of at least three of the control room's 17 staff at any one time.
Every camera is recording all the time and the control room, at a secret city centre location, is in radio contact with the police and fire brigade.
All this, Mr Sayers says, is good news for the people of Liverpool. But not everyone is so happy with public surveillance.
Some cameras in Kensington have been vandalised and in neighbouring Kirkby there are websites dedicated to criticising the 'spies There have also been reports about peeping tom incidents, with three Sefton council workers sacked in January for misconduct after allegedly using cameras to watch a woman in a bathroom.
Dr Roy Coleman, a lecturer in criminology at Liverpool University, says while cameras work on some levels, some issues need to be considered.
His book, The Reclaiming of the Streets: Surveillance, Social Control and the City, has recently won a top academic prize and Dr Coleman said: "Who directs how the cameras are used?