Viennese surveillance camera scheme seen as success

Almost 2,800 surveillance cameras have been set up at council houses in Vienna in the past three years, city officials announced yesterday (Weds).

Social Democratic (SPÖ) Housing Councillor Michael Ludwig said 2,769 camera systems were installed at the so-called Gemeindebau housing estates which have been subsidised and managed by the city since autumn 2008. The controversial endeavour got the green light by federal data protection authorities only in 2009. Ludwig said the plan was to fix a hundred cameras, more in the near future, to reach the initially envisaged number of a total of 2,800 surveillance installations.

The Viennese SPÖ said when it agreed to the project three years ago it wanted to raise security and reduce crime figures in Gemeindebau apartment blocks and parks around properties. The Green Party – which formed a coalition with the Social Democrats last year – has taken a more critical stance on the issue.

The surveillance camera plans were reportedly also agreed upon by SPÖ Vienna chiefs to take the wind out of the Freedom Party’s (FPÖ) sails. Increasing felony rates and rampant vandalism have been key topics of the right-wing opposition party’s election campaigns. The surveillance system project robbed it of one issue it could hit out at the SPÖ about since the installation of the thousands of cameras reportedly led to a significant decline in crime in council flats.

Ludwig said especially the number of cases of wilful damage to property shrank sharply also because of the cameras. There have also been fewer thefts and graffiti spraying incidents in blocks of flats all over Vienna thanks to the measures, according to the councillor and managers of the once heavily affected apartment blocks. Ludwig added that the cameras were also a big help in clarifying crimes.

The lion’s share of cameras – 490 – was installed at the Rennbahn estate in Vienna-Donaustadt. Especially elderly tenants feel safer because of the surveillance systems, a representative of inhabitants of the large housing estate said yesterday.

The news comes shortly after it emerged that dozens of Viennese newsagents set up surveillance cameras at their shops due to a significant rise in robberies.

More and more public transport stations in Vienna are monitored with cameras as police try to gain the upper hand on felonies. However, the number of public places in the federal capital of Austria overseen with surveillance systems is relatively low compared to many other cities across the continent.