Wellington Mayor apologises after volunteer CCTV monitoring scrapped

Wellington Mayor Andy Foster has apologised over the handling of a decision to ditch a volunteer CCTV camera base watching over the city’s nightlife district.

More than 40 volunteers had been monitoring the council’s city safety cameras from a hub at the central police station.

But the scheme was scrapped last year in favour of a more centralised model, which resulted in operations being moved to the city council’s offices on The Terrace.

Cameras are now monitored by dedicated full-time staff, the council’s security team, and police still have access to them at all times.

The decision left volunteers angry because they said the operation was “closed down overnight” without proper consultation.

They said they were left feeling disparaged and undervalued.

The issue was brought up at a recent public meeting, hosted by National list MP Nicola Willis, to discuss city safety.

She has said the volunteer camera base was an essential part of Wellington’s crime prevention armour and was appalled by the decision to put an end to it.

“Stopping this service is a punch in the guts to those good people and everyone they worked hard to keep safe.”

Foster was in attendance and committed to his own meeting with representatives in front of the crowd, following which he wrote to volunteers.

The Herald has obtained a copy of Foster’s letter. He said the decision to move the camera monitoring in-house was not taken lightly.

But Foster said he understood communications at that time may have left some volunteers not feeling their contribution was acknowledged.

“While I do not want to relitigate this matter, I would like to apologise for any miscommunication when the base was closed and, to express again my deep appreciation for all the work you did.”

Foster said there was immense value in volunteering.

“I also know what a sense of ownership and belonging it brings, and I understand personally how hard changes to this can be.”

Former CCTV volunteer co-ordinator David Webb acknowledged the mayor’s apology.

“If one learning could come from all of this, it’s that volunteers have equal rights and feelings of paid employees.

“If they were going to make 46 council employees redundant, surely they would have followed best practice rather than no practice.”

Inner City Wellington chairman Stephen King said he accepted the intention was never to make people feel they weren’t valued and the mayor’s letter was an attempt to rectify the situation.

“There is still a large number of that team who feel it was poorly handled, that it was the wrong decision, that the city is worse off for having made that decision.”

Why the volunteer CCTV camera base was closed

Putting an end to the scheme was fast-tracked last year due to Covid-19 and subsequent alert level changes, which exposed vulnerabilities in the base.

A memo between council officers, released under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act, said the base couldn’t operate properly as most of the volunteers were over 65 and the police needed to keep the integrity of their bubble.

Concerns were also raised around privacy and confusion about the volunteers’ roles in collecting data.

The document said police were struggling to find the resource to support and manage the volunteers.

The council also found volunteer shifts were variable and often only one person could be found to roster on at night, or no one at all.

For these reasons the decision was made to centralise the council’s CCTV functions to its offices on The Terrace.

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