In our latest podcast, Will Russell, Operations Director, talks to Dartford Borough Council’s Enforcement Manager, Richard Cherry, about how innovative AI cameras have helped eliminate a long-standing nuisance vehicle issue in the area.
Street racing, street cruising and car meet-ups
Dartford is just one of many UK councils having to use up valuable resources in managing the risks, anti-social behaviour and the disturbance and disruption of unlawful and unregulated car meets and street racing. It has suffered a particular issue in the Crossways Boulevard area, a busy industrial estate near the Dartford Crossing where upwards of 200 cars were regularly congregating on Friday and Saturday nights. Despite a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) being in place, and police, council officials and Kingdom support officers working to disperse the vehicles and spectators, the problem persisted. Invariably, as soon as the police left the scene, cars recongregated and the nuisance continued.
Council concerns and local impact
The Crossways issue has proved problematic for both the Council and the Kent Police for some years. There were natural concerns for public safety and safety of both other road users and participating drivers in an area that sees plenty of heavy goods vehicle movement at all hours of the day. There have been well publicised incidents of serious casualties at similar events elsewhere in the country.
It was also clearly anti-social behaviour and was attracting a long stream of complaints from the public, businesses on the estate, and councillors, as well as negative publicity in social media and the local press. Although the council’s community safety team, Kingdom officials and the police spent many hours on scene cautioning drivers and following up with case file preparation and further investigations, the common perception was that ‘nothing is being done’ because the same thing was happening week in, week out. And yet for at least a year it was the community safety team’s number one priority, consuming most of the available hours and limiting their response capability to other issues.
Waste Watch provides inspiration
By the summer of 2022, there was growing acceptance that the dispersal effort – with all its demands on precious manpower - wasn’t a solution, in that it didn’t actually solve anything. Kingdom had previously worked with Richard Cherry on the deployment of mobile AI cameras in a ‘Waste Watch’ scheme to prevent fly-tipping in a hotspot area (the cameras use ANPR technology to identify car owners and thus allow the issuing of a Fixed Penalty Notice). Success there had been immediate and the suggestion was made that potentially AI cameras could deliver similar results for the Crossways problem.
Richard was initially sceptical that the cameras could capture a sufficiently clear image for evidentiary purposes, given the vehicle speeds and the low light conditions, but, having seen the results with Waste Watch, he was prepared for Kingdom to trial the technology for this rather different use case.
What happened next
The AI cameras were deployed by Kingdom in October 2022, taking up positions that gave excellent coverage of both dual carriageways. Appropriate signage was also added. On the first evening, Richard saw for himself that while the signage and the cameras didn’t deter anyone, and that cars still gathered and raced in numbers, the AI cameras were clearly photographing and identifying the vehicles involved.
As a result, the Council was able to issue 42 Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs) and 28 Community Protection Warnings (CPWs) in that first week, and that was enough of a deterrent – the nuisance vehicle issue was solved almost overnight and has stayed solved.
Interestingly, the payment rates for the FPNs and CPWs exceeded the average, coming in at an exceptional 90% rather than the typical 75%. The quality of the image-based evidence was such that every challenge that was received was duly withdrawn and payment made - it really was an invaluable aid for council staff when explaining the reasons for the issuance of the penalty.
For Dartford Borough Council and Kent Police, the results of the AI camera initiative were wholly positive. Within days, public complaints dropped to zero, for the first time in years. Hundreds of man hours spent responding to and managing the situation were suddenly freed up, as the cameras just do the job day in, day out, 24/7. The press turned very favourable, with plaudits across social media and regional papers, and Kent county councillors were also quick to acknowledge the achievement. Other boroughs facing similar issues have since been in touch and Richard and his team have been only too happy to share their insights on what is now a proven solution in yet another scenario – first fly-tipping, now street cruising.
Working with Kingdom LAS
Kingdom LAS has extensive experience supporting local authorities across a range of environmental protections and enforcement challenges. Our development and deployment of AI cameras to tackle persistent nuisance gives councils an effective, cost-efficient weapon in the fight against illegal activity and anti-social behaviour.
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