While David Cameron was running the idea of the big society around in his head James Wickes had already decided to start building part of it.
Frustrated by a spate of burglaries and incidents of petty vandalism in his neighbourhood and on the small-holding he owns in Esher, the technology entrepreneur decided to build a system that would not only deal with it, but one that would also bring his neighbours into a joint effort to combat it.
The result is Jabbakam, a network of cameras that can be accessed by anyone who has signed up to a particular group on the web that can be accessed via the internet and which can send out picture alerts when a camera has been triggered by a suspicious incident to a mobile.
“What really made my mind up was waking up and hearing voices outside in my garden. I looked out of the window and there were four men there. I rang up the police and they asked whether they were trying to break in.
“When I said no, the operator said to ring back if they did, I was not only appalled by that I also felt very vulnerable and doing something that harnessed my neighbours together seemed the only way out. I suddenly thought about social networks and the way that people were using technology and it struck me that it wasn’t being done properly. It wasn’t joined up.”
Wickes is a small man but very determined, and on the issue of community CCTV he is an evangelist.
“I think that there is too much state CCTV in the country and that is why it’s not trusted. This system simply makes CCTV work in the way that it should have done in the first place. It should always have been people who were using the system and not the authorities.”
Wickes is keen to avoid any do-gooding labels, initiative like Jabbakam are as far as he is concerned simply people taking responsibility for their streets, their houses and their lives and in a technological age it makes sense to use trends in technology to meet social problems.
By logging onto the internet anyone with an internet camera can download the software and then either set up their own group or sign up to an existing group. The Jabbakam system, then lets them take footage of a street or location but also stores it for up to six months on web-based computers to allow incidents to be produced as evidence.
Cameron’s ‘big society’ as far as Wickes is concerned is only the expression of a trend of disaffection that is starting to build up a head of steam in the UK, as people vent their frustration at anti-social behaviour and a feeling of impotence in the face of petty theft, vandalism and burglaries, his Jabbakam service, which costs around £5 a month, could be an answer to that.
Whether or not Wickes is right, using systems like his high-tech neighbourhood watch definitely has advantages, according to the National Crime Survey properties without basic home security measures are 3.4% more likely to become victims of burglary than those that have taken precautions.
A statistic backed up by the Neighbourhood Watch Trust.
“If you’re a member of NW then you are five times less likely to be a victim of domestic burglary,” said Roy Rudham, NW’s UK chair, adding: “many insurance companies now give discounts to members. One insurance company recently released figures that confirmed you were 37% less likely to be a victim of domestic burglary if you were an active NW member.
“I think that this is about caring,” said Wickes. “If you care about something then you look after it and that’s what this is about. Taking responsibility is about taking control.”