Breckland CCTV is state-of-the-art

They can see in the dark, automatically home in on suspicious characters and read a car number plate from half a mile away.

They can see in the dark, automatically home in on suspicious characters and read a car number plate from half a mile away.

So the notion of being surrounded by state-of-the-art surveillance cameras might not set everyone at ease - least of all the criminals with most reason to fear them.

But the architects of Breckland's �3.5m new CCTV network said it was there to be controlled by the community, rather than to spy on them.

The system was officially launched on Thursday at its hi-tech underground nerve-centre in Thetford, where crystal-clear images from 70 digital cameras will be monitored and recorded around the clock.

It has replaced the district's 15-year-old analogue network and is linked via an encrypted wireless 'cloud', making it faster and cheaper to relocate the wireless cameras to new trouble-spots as they arise.

As one of the most advanced set-ups in the country, it uses cutting edge technology to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour.

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And Breckland Council hopes it could eventually become self-funding as it has the capacity to provide commercial revenue by monitoring businesses and private properties.

But despite all this technology, the project's leaders said the key component was the people it was designed to protect.

The council is developing five CCTV focus groups to discuss how to make best use of the cameras, and schemes such as Pub Watch, Businesses Watch and Breckland Watch are in constant contact with CCTV operators.

And the public have been urged to play their part by reporting violence or suspicious activity directly to the control room via a text hotline - meaning the cameras can be trained on the right area at the touch of a button.

Adrian Stasiak, Breckland's executive member for communities, said: 'State-of-the art-technology may be this system's life blood but at the heart of this project we have placed all the communities within Breckland.

'On its own this new CCTV system represents a strong deterrent, but with information from the community, and with businesses and homeowners using us to monitor their private security systems, we can build on a strong foundation and create an exceptionally powerful tool in our work to keep Breckland a safe and secure place to live and bring up our families.

'This is not so much a new CCTV system for the people of Breckland but a new system which belongs to the people of Breckland and one in which they play a key role in helping it reach its full potential.

'It is the public who have the opportunity to direct these cameras, so it is not Big Brother.'

As the powerful lenses have the potential to pry into private windows, the software includes 'privacy zones' where any area or window can be blanked-out on the system at the request of residents. That part of the screen can then never be seen by an operator from any angle or zoom, and the zone can only be edited by a senior manager.

Community safety officer Grahame Green said: 'It is probably the most sophisticated CCTV system in the country at this moment in time. What makes us quite unique is that we have gone digital all the way through, from camera to transmission to recording. On top of that, we are trying to make the whole thing self-funding. We have seen a gap in the market where we can earn revenue by monitoring businesses or private premises, and that revenue will eventually offset the running costs of the system. It is a win/win for the council.'

Anyone witnessing an incident or suspicious behaviour in Breckland can text the CCTV control room on 07901 007575, as well as contacting the police.

The 70 cameras are mostly positioned in Thetford, Swaffham, Watton, Dereham, and Attleborough, but there are a number of mobile cameras which can be deployed when needed to trouble-spots in more rural areas.

The lenses have a 35x optical zoom and can spin at a rate of 480deg per second.

The cameras have infra-red capabilities and, when trained on motionless areas like car parks at night, can lock onto any movement and follow that car or person automatically.

Images are continually recorded, but when an operator sees something happening, the system drops into higher-quality 'incident' recording at the touch of a button - saving broadcast-standard images to help police investigations or courtroom evidence.

There are also plans for a loudspeaker system to allow operators to give pro-active warnings to anyone seen acting illegally or suspiciously.

The Thetford control room has two police radios to monitor activity and report back with intelligence. Remote police access will be introduced soon so officers can instantly see live or recorded images.

The project is part of a 10-year partnership deal between Breckland Council and Advance Monitoring Solutions.