How Leedswatch CCTV team is helping to make city safer

Tracking down rapists, helping to build a case against street robbers, saving the lives of drug users and making sure missing people get home safely.

Monday, 24th December 2018, 1:27 pm
Updated Tuesday, 8th January 2019, 5:07 pm
The Leedswatch control room where footage captured on hundreds of CCTV cameras across the city is monitored around the clock. Picture: James Hardisty
The Leedswatch control room where footage captured on hundreds of CCTV cameras across the city is monitored around the clock. Picture: James Hardisty

While these might seem like tasks for the police and paramedics, there is a team tucked away in a nondescript council building in south Leeds helping to do just that every day without ever leaving their desks.

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Staff in the Leedswatch control room monitor a network of more than 300 cameras covering the city centre and beyond, as well as most West Yorkshire bus stations, around the clock.

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Leedswatch control room officer Ruth Anelay at work. Pictures: James Hardisty

And their role looks set to become even greater in the year ahead, with more cameras being installed in council tower blocks and an increasing focus on how the service can support vulnerable residents.

Paul Money, chief officer of community safety partnership Safer Leeds, said: “Some local authorities are struggling to fund their CCTV resource, I’ll be attempting to put more in. It’s a function that’s really at the heart of what we do.”

Funded by Leeds City Council with a contribution from West Yorkshire Metro, the team has moved from just monitoring the footage capture on the CCTV network to taking on a whole host of other tasks.

Service manager Jayne Russell said: “Originally it was just CCTV monitoring but over the past few years the work has grown. It’s all interconnected and linked in with the other community safety teams.”

Now Leedswatch has its own officers who can be deployed in the field, patrolling council sites like Lotherton Hall or Kirkstall Abbey or acting as a visible presence in communities. The team is also the initial contact for out-of-hours for noise nuisance complaints and calls to the council for highways issues and emergency repairs.

And when the ‘ring of steel’ bollards designed to prevent vehicles accessing shopping areas in the city centre become operational next year, managing that will be another responsibility.

Ms Russell said: “We’ve been involved in the consultation. We’ll be doing the monitoring of that whenever somebody approaches the gates.”

But helping to prevent and detect crime and anti-social behaviour using live and recorded footage remains the most significant piece of work, with control room officers acting as an extra set of eyes for police.

Mr Money said: “We can’t put an officer on every street in the city centre, but we don’t do bad for cameras.

“There around 80 active cameras there that can be moved. Without that, the public would undoubtedly be less safe in our city centre.”