Wellington's party district is experiencing a surge in alcohol-fuelled violence but a group of 40 volunteers monitoring council CCTV footage has been scrapped.
Wellington City Council has made the move as part of an effort to centralise all its CCTV functions to its offices on The Terrace.
It has made assurances staff are continuing to monitor all 53 cameras in the network, which police have access to at all times.
But Local National List MP Nicola Willis said the decision has put Wellingtonians at risk, especially considering the recent incidents of reported gang violence.
A person was stabbed and nine were arrested after police broke up a brawl on Courtenay Place overnight on Friday.
Just two weeks prior another brawl broke out on nearby Taranaki St, which resulted in one person being stabbed and several others assaulted with weapons.
Lambton Ward councillor Tamatha Paul on the other hand doubted having the volunteers in place would have prevented the brawls.
Police say they are attending at least one serious incident on Courtenay Place almost every weekend and the hospitality industry is reporting the level of anti-social behaviour in town is "next level".
Volunteers have been monitoring the council's city safety CCTV cameras for the past seven years from a camera hub at the central police station.
But the scheme was put to and end around the time of the Covid-19 lockdown.
On July 8 paid volunteer co-ordinators wrote to Police Minister Stuart Nash raising concerns about the closing of the camera base, calling for a review of the decision.
"There is a risk to officer safety with no real time visual on night-time hotspots where disorder occurs. This has legal, and moral, implications should there be a serious incident", the letter read.
They said volunteer operators were able to provide information to frontline staff and update them on incidents to ensure they were fully prepared when they arrived on the scene.
This also frequently saved resources from being sent unnecessarily if a situation had been defused, they said.
Volunteers reported they responded to 655 playback requests from police in the last three years, searching through 1638 hours of footage to find evidence.
"Officers now need to do this work themselves, which represents a huge waste of police resources. Additionally, the volunteers, with their superior local knowledge and highly developed analytical skills, were often more successful in locating useful footage, and in a timely manner", the letter reads.
A police spokesperson said it was not for police to comment on council matters and the district command centre monitored CCTV 24/7, including the council's network of cameras.
Wellington City Council said in a statement volunteer shifts were variable and often only one person could be found to roster on at night, or no one at all.
It said it was in the process of recruiting for two full-time monitoring roles.
Until recently the camera hub was located at the police station, but over the past six months council has upgraded its network and centralised all its CCTV functions to its offices on The Terrace.
"As soon as we knew there would be changes, it was important for us to let them know of the new plans. At the same time we wanted to acknowledge what a fantastic group of people the volunteers are – giving up their own time to help keep Wellington one of the safest cities in New Zealand", the council said.
The network that supported the hub was routed through Wakefield St and the now closed library buildings, then through a microwave link from the roof of the library to the police station.
"This was always problematic as quality of signal was weather dependent and was struggling with the bandwidth required for the CCTV cameras", the council said.
"The upgraded network ensures we have an integrated CCTV network that has capacity for future growth and responsive programmes."
Willis said the volunteer camera base was an essential part of Wellington's crime prevention armour and it was an appalling decision to put an end to it.
"Stopping this service is a punch in the guts to those good people and everyone they worked hard to keep safe."
Willis questioned how the council would replace the work of 40 volunteers with two full-time roles.
"And if it's police monitoring these cameras, is that the best use of police time when there were volunteers prepared to do it for free?"
Having spent time with volunteers while they were in action, Willis said the monitoring of gang activity was a key area of focus.
"People in Courtenay Place having a good night out, law abiding citizens, don't carry weapons with them. That's what criminals and gang associates do and that's partly why we have CCTV to monitor those events occurring, and I'm concerned we may no longer have an adequate service for that kind of monitoring."
Paul said councillors didn't have a say in the volunteer matter and she wanted to see how having two full-time staff went.
"If it clearly isn't working then we can go back to the drawing board and see what might work, but it has to be a part of a range of different solutions."
She said more monitoring didn't equate to more officers on the ground dealing with the incidents, which was a bottom of the cliff response.
"We need to have a deep look into the way that our bars and restaurants are operating, what kind of behaviour we're encouraging, who gets licenses, the street layout, how much money we're giving to volunteer services like Take 10, and how we can take a health based approach to this issue", Paul said.
The council said it held the CCTV footage for a period of 30 days before the system automatically recorded over it.
During that time, police have free access to conduct all playbacks using the system in their hub.
The council does not record names and personal details of any individuals.