Harrow Council insists that its planned ‘Neighbourhood Champions’ scheme will not increase the likelihood of photographers being stopped by volunteer members of the public.
The London council was responding to concern raised by Amateur Photographer (AP) magazine that the council-run scheme may adopt similar principles to a nationwide volunteer scheme set up by the Home Office earlier this year.
Under the Home Office scheme, called Project Argus, members of the public are trained to be alert to possible dangers posed by people carrying cameras and lenses in busy areas, amid terrorism fears.
Harrow Council says that, under its Neighbourhood Champions scheme, volunteers will play a key role in alerting it to ‘street issues’ such as graffiti, noise nuisance and petty vandalism.
The volunteers will be able to log their concerns on the Neighbourhood Champions website.
Backed by local police the scheme is expected to be introduced early next year.
Asked whether the project will lead to more widespread suspicion over photographers among members of the public, a Harrow Council spokeswoman said: ‘This has nothing to do with our proposal’, adding that any suspicion over terrorism, for example, would be a matter for police.
She said that volunteers will be asked to approach the council if they see an ‘abandoned car’, for example.
Announcing the project, which will cost £71,000 to set up, the council said: ‘Harrow Police will be alerted swiftly if the issue concerns criminal activity.’
The council has played down media reports that the scheme may infringe civil liberties. ‘It has nothing to do with snooping,’ the spokeswoman told AP.
The news comes as AP continues to highlight the plight of photographers who are stopped while taking legitimate photos.
The scheme is expected to be approved at a Council meeting on 12 November.
In April we revealed that under the Home Office’s Project Argus plan, the National Counter Terrorism Security Office (NaCTSO) aims to train 60,000 volunteers – including security guards and council workers – as part of counter-terrorism measures in areas such as shopping centres, hotels and stations.
Each training session lasts three hours, including a coffee break.
The training draws on existing NaCTSO guidance regarding ‘hostile reconnaissance’.
This urges people to look out for ‘overt/covert photography’ as well as those in possession of ‘photographs, maps, global positioning systems, photographic equipment, (cameras, zoom lenses, camcorders)’.
Click here to watch a brief photography in public video by AP’s news editor.