Thursday, 08 January 2009

Zap thy neighbour Volunteers in a Suffolk village have been trained to use laser monitoring equipment, which records the speed and registration of passing vehicles, information which can then be passed to the police. Such community speed watch schemes are a logical development of citizen involvement in policing. Another parish council decided not to be involved in the scheme because they felt that the public should not be expected to do the police's job. “It involves quite a bit of cost to set up, we would be doing the police's job for them, you get people to stand out there in the cold and possibly catch their friends and neighbours which could cause problems.” So once again the technology helps us focus in on the extent to which we've outsourced responsibilities for the co-production of safety and security in our neighbourhoods, to external formal agencies - and got so accustomed to it that we think it's right. People are justified in getting agitated about the disregard with which motorists are allowed to speed through the neighbourhoods, but I wonder about a couple of things. First, there's something sinister (but not deceitful) about the power of this technology to monitor other people's behaviour. Have we really worked hard enough at more human persuasive processes to encourage civility on the part of the cocooned motorist to other members of the species? Secondly, village life being what it is, there could be a concern about the extent to which volunteers are known and identifiable. Have there been inclusive engagement exercises within the village to explore consensus around the issue and the process, so that harmful and lasting social divisions don't begin to appear?

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