The tiny Sunshine Coast town that’s taken crime fighting into its own hands

A tiny Sunshine Coast town has become the first in the state to fund its own high-tech surveillance system to combat crime, with local police saying it’s already working wonders on the streets.

May 27, 2020, updated May 27, 2020
The Main Street of Kenilworth, where locals have taken high-tech policing into their own hands (supplied).

The Main Street of Kenilworth, where locals have taken high-tech policing into their own hands (supplied).

While some Kenilworth residents are not pleased about “being watched”, officers insist the number-plate-recognition cameras will keep the community safer and say they have already led to arrests.

Local businesses banded together with Sunshine Coast Council to fund eight cameras, worth about $35,000, which have been set up in four locations across the town.

As well as general recording, they’re capable of detecting suspect vehicles. Police can also use the footage to trace whether a car is linked to someone with a criminal history.

Senior Constable Pierre Senekal said the cameras would be “more of a deterrent” for the town, which already has “very low crime numbers”.

“And we strive to keep it that way,” he said. “The cameras can read a number upside down, they don’t need any lighting. Even if a vehicle has high beams on that camera, it will read the numbers.

“That for the police helps us enormously to identify offenders and help us prosecute them.”

Local resident Shane Smith said he hoped the cameras would deter crime altogether.

“We didn’t really need it, but we thought it’s just another way of catching any criminal activity,” he said.

“So a safety net essentially. It’s not like there’s been an increase in crime. I hope they don’t get used at all — hopefully they’ll act as a deterrent and stop any crime.”

Senekal said that within two days of installing the cameras, police identified an offender at the scene of a stealing crime, which led to the man being arrested and charged.

Over the next few months, the technology helped officers catch a group attempting to break into a home.

And they detected a person wanted over a stabbing last month, leading to an arrest warrant being issued.

‘Treating everyone as a criminal’

However, despite the community and local police backing the initiative, the Queensland Council for Civil Liberties said it did not approve.

“We don’t agree with systems that result in the collection of data and unjustified mass surveillance that treats everyone as a criminal,” president Michael Pope said.

“We would like to see the cameras have a blacklist of number plates, so police can search those vehicles only.

“A similar program in the US stored data on 82 million numbers plates, of which only a very small percentage were suspect vehicles.”

For safety, not spying

But for Senekal, the cameras’ results spoke for themselves.

“These cameras are here to look after our community, not to spy on our community,” he said.

“We don’t wait for crime to come to our town, we keep the crime away, so it’s a warning to people that come to our town and to offenders.

“We will identify you and we will catch you and charge you.

“To the tourists and families that come, come and enjoy Kenilworth, we’ve got cameras to keep you safe.”

– ABC / Amy Sheehan and Tara Cassidy

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