LITTER wardens have been kitted out with body-worn cameras in an attempt to keep them safe on the streets, the Evening News can reveal.
Council bosses have spent more than £4500 buying the gadgets – alongside a dedicated laptop to store and process the videos.
The move, which emerged as a result of a Freedom of Information request, is part of an ongoing trial in the north of Edinburgh following concerns raised by environmental wardens over their personal safety.
Wardens are required to warn people who are being filmed and the cameras are primarily seen as a way of protecting staff who find themselves in confrontations with members of the public.
But campaigners said they would also like to see the cameras used to gather evidence of people littering and dog fouling.
The council bought seven Pinnacle Response PR5 body cameras in early 2015, at a cost of £548 each. A further £700 was spent on a laptop for “storage and processing”.
The camera model – which has a widescreen lens and is usually worn on the chest – is the same as that used by many police forces and security companies.
Pinnacle Response’s website boasts that its “tamper-proof battery and memory card guarantees evidential integrity”.
The ongoing council trial is expected to finish towards the end of this year, after which city bosses will evaluate the success of the scheme and decide whether wardens should be issued with cameras full-time.
As well as the north of the city, the cameras will be in use across the north-west and north-east in the coming months.
So far, environmental wardens are the only council staff to be issued with the devices.
Opposition politicians said they had not been told about the camera trial and insisted “ground rules” should be laid down over the technology’s use.
Former police officer and Tory councillor Cameron Rose said: “I wasn’t aware of the council trialling body cameras for environmental wardens.
“I can understand in certain limited circumstance they will be appropriate and useful – for example, for safety or to target specific problems.
“It is ironic that the council itself is responsible for a very significant failure to uplift refuse and littering of our streets. Yet it is responsible for enforcement. There is something wrong with it being judge and jury when it is such a large corporate offender.
“I know it is hugely difficult for the police to get permission to use what is surveillance equipment and I hope the council are not in breach of the various privacy regulations.”
Councillor Chas Booth, Green environment spokesman, said: “The city has a real problem of enforcement for littering and persistent dog-fouling which lots of residents find frustrating.
“So anything which can help bring offenders to account has to be looked at.
“Of course, I’d want to make sure that any use of cameras was not infringing on people’s privacy so the ground rules about when they are used and how footage is stored need to be agreed.
“Given the use of body cameras in the north of the city, it would be useful to get an updated review of experience so far and what the next steps are.”
Campaigners hailed the cameras as a useful tool in combating the scourge of mounting rubbish across the city.
Former council leader Donald Anderson, chair of the Friends of Burdiehouse Burn Valley Park – which was threatened with losing its prestigious Green Flag status earlier this year due to litter louts – said: “I think it’s a great idea.
“Everybody would want council staff to be as safe as possible, and everybody wants tough action to be taken on littering.”
Evening News columnist Gerry Farrell, who spearheads the Leithers Don’t Litter campaign, warned that if littering laws are not fully enforced, nothing will change.
He said: “If you are challenging anybody about dropping litter, you are putting yourself at risk. Here, you also have evidence of them dropping litter on camera.
“I’ve certainly felt threatened a couple of times, especially when challenging someone about their dog’s fouling. I think cameras are the only way.”
The council said it had not completed a privacy impact assessment before the trial, insisting there was “no requirement to do so” at the time.
It said all footage is held for a minimum of 31 days, after which “any footage which does not relate to a specific incident is destroyed”.
Any footage recorded in relation to a specific incident is stored for evidence and kept for up to three years – or until the offence has been dealt with by the courts.
A council spokeswoman said camera footage had yet to be used as evidence in court. She said the cameras were not switched on all the time, but could be activated during incidents or if wardens felt threatened.
Councillor Lesley Hinds, the city’s environment leader, said: “We are committed to tackling the problem of dog fouling and littering in Edinburgh. Not only is it unsightly but it poses a health and safety risk to the public.
“We know it is a problem residents really care about and our camera trial in the north of the city is one of the many ways we are seeking to address it.
“Our environmental wardens routinely respond to complaints and target hotspot areas and we hope the use of body-worn cameras will stop offenders in their tracks.
“If the cameras can protect these frontline staff, it will be considered a success.
“Those environmental wardens who wear cameras during this trial warn offenders if their interactions will be recorded, so no one has or will be filmed without their knowledge – but those who are recorded committing an offence should be sure they will brought to the attention of the Procurator Fiscal.”
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