Neighbourhood Watch for vertical villages

Neighbourhood Watch for vertical villages

By Janette Corcoran

With our high-rise precincts already well monitored, do our vertical villages need more watching?

Following the 2017 Bourke St incident, the state government expanded its CCTV network, bringing to 65 the number of CCTV surveillance cameras installed throughout the city.

These cameras feed into the City of Melbourne’s Safe City network and are scrutinised by a 24-hour monitoring hub which notify police of incidents as they occur. The stated purpose of these cameras is to help create a safer environment and reduce crime levels by deterring potential offenders and assisting crime detection.

And perhaps we should feel even more safe now as data from such CCTV networks can be correlated with our Victorian driver’s licences – as these have recently been uploaded to a national facial recognition database. While previously the state government had concerns about civil liberties and privacy, we are assured that the data will only be available to state-based agencies – initially VicRoads and Victoria Police. Use by federal authorities and other states, we are told, will not be authorised until the state government is satisfied with the proposed Identity-matching services Bill which is currently before federal parliament.

Continuing this concern for our safety, suppliers of security services to high-rise residential buildings are also advocating a move away from our traditional “human intervened” security services and a move towards technology such as facial recognition.  They suggest we begin by focusing on the many non-residents who regularly seek access to our vertical villages, such as contractors, suppliers, visitors, etc. A key selling point is that such facial technology can identify known criminals (but only if there is access to a relevant identify database methinks!).

The next step then is to apply this technology to residents. The argument here is that many of us are already comfortable with using our thumbprint to access our mobile devices – so why not for our front doors? It would make losing your keys harder to do! One option is to have separate entrances. For example, the main entrance could be equipped with biometric identification for use by residents, allowing entry at will. A separate entrance with different security measures would then operate for others seeking access – such as food deliverers who would be required to remove their helmet before entering. 

But does this make us – or make us feel - safer?

Not necessarily, according to Bambi Gordon, CEO of Neighbourhood Watch (NW).

Bambi believes that safety – and our feelings of being safe – emanate more from our sense of connectedness with both whom and where we live.

This means that feeling connected - belonging - manifest differently for different groups in different contexts and will likely change over time.  

For example, the city of Ballarat has a long-established NW group but these days, some members are less physically active. While appreciating a preference for aging-in-place, the local NW group has altered its approach to include regular phone chats to their less active members.

This suits the people involved and strengthens feelings of being connected. Bambi also sees something different emerging for us vertical villagers. 

In a sector criticised for lacking a sense of community and where diversity is the order of the day, the challenge here is to craft ways of connecting that suits our various lifestyles and is not seen as intrusive. 

This is where Safety Alliance Victoria (SAV) comes into play. This a collaboration between NW, Crime Stoppers Victoria, Federation University, RACV and Victoria Police -  and has the aim of creating pilot programs to reduce residential burglary and motor vehicle crime. And one pilot program will look at how real connections and a sense of neighbourhood can be nurtured in high-rise, high-density residences. This program will encompass surveys of residents in selected buildings to establish how safe they feel in their space and how much connection they have to their neighbours. Initiatives will then be trialled, such as improved signage, safe storage, information sessions and ways of noting suspicious behaviour.

This pilot is likely to happen in mid to late 2020 – so until then, stay safe!

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