By Matthew Hackett FEARS that student safety on Cowley Road is at risk has prompted OUSU to launch a major campaign to have CCTV installed by the City Council.
OUSU President Martin McCluskey criticised the Council’s East Area Parliament, which recently rejected demands for greater surveillance due to the expected cost. “It’s shocking that they have blocked the installation of CCTV on Cowley Road,” he said. “I want to ensure that students and residents living in East Oxford are safe and there are adequate measures in place to protect their personal safety.
“CCTV would also allow the police to allocate resources more efficiently and ensure that the surrounding streets are effectively policed.”
Violent crime increased by 34.7% in the first six months of 2007, and last year there were over 900 crimes recorded in the Cowley Road area.
In September 2007, Superintendent Brendan O’Dowa called for the installation of eight cameras between Magdalen Bridge and Magdalen Road. City Councillors rejected the proposals, claiming that they would cost over £200,000.
“The local police are begging for CCTV,” McCluskey said. “In busy periods there can be as many as 3000 people spilling out of pubs and clubs, requiring a huge police operation.”
He admitted that OUSU had previously ignored the needs of second, third-year and graduate students who were living out in East Oxford. “We’ve been too college focused and just haven’t done enough,” he said. “Our call for CCTV on Cowley Road isn’t just to protect our students, but every resident in East Oxford.”
The campaign has the support of local Labour MP Andrew Smith, who represents the East Oxford constituency. Smith said that he was confident of success. “We’re going to fight for this all the way,” he said. “I have been struck by the level of support for CCTV among residents. This is a campaign that unites both town and gown.”
Chair of the East Area Parliament, Nuala Young, criticised OUSU and Thames Valley Police for their campaign. “The senior officers calling for cameras keep changing their figures. They previously said that things are getting better, but now they seem to have changed their minds,” she said. “We in the East Area Parliament are the elected representatives, yet they seem determined to act in a quasi-legislative role.”
Councillor Young said that she hoped to engage in a more productive debate with police chiefs. “I want to see less publicity-seeking and instead sit down for a serious discussion.
“Most of the crimes in question take place in side streets, which cameras would do nothing to detect or prevent.” She also fears the use of CCTV as a substitute for actual policing and outlined alternative solutions. “We would like to see more police officers on bicycles. This is quick and direct.”
The Green Party councillor also added that the scheme would involve further dangers. “We’ve had a whole summer of roadworks and businesses are really suffering,” she said. “The installation of cameras would require the road to be dug up again and do further damage to local commerce.”  
She voiced concern that the use of CCTV would infringe on residents’ civil liberties. “The UK is the most watched society in the world. We already have more CCTV than Africa and Australia put together, it’s absolutely ridiculous,” she said.
McCluskey responded to her criticisms, saying, “We’re taking measures to safeguard people’s privacy. Cameras would not be able to see into houses and there would be strict regulations as to who could view footage.”