Safety through surveillance

CCTV security camera in city of China.

Safety through surveillance

Surveillance for safety might sound reassuring. But how far will a burgeoning network of CCTV cameras, installed at every street corner, every traffic junction keep you secure? Even if it works in the city’s Central Business District (CBD), what about those dark, desolate stretches on the city’s periphery?

Beyond the 731 CCTV cameras currently installed in the CBD, the city police have identified 5,494 locations with a high footfall of women to put up these surveillance devices. A senior police official informs that the systems will be financed under the Nirbhaya Fund allocated for the State. 

But critical questions remain. How far will CCTVs be effective in crime prevention? Since the cameras require good lighting to capture verifiable movements during night time, how can they work in vast stretches that are poorly lit?

Poorly lit streets

Three years ago, a city-wide study of utilities, collated under the Street Quality Index, had raised serious questions on lighting and safety. It had found that 51% of the city streets had lux levels (a measure of lighting) below the safety mark of 10 lux. Of the 3,075km of streets surveyed, the average street-lighting was only 8 lux. A disturbing 448 km of roads in the inner BBMP wards had no lighting at all.

However, the police are certain that with good lighting, their system of surveillance cameras can actually produce good results. Footage from the 731 cameras in the CBD is fed to the command centre located at the city police commissioner’s office on Infantry road. Here, the movements are remotely monitored by a team of 20 plus staff working round-the-clock.

Integrated screens

On duty at the command centre, these communication officers track the footage on integrated computer screens lined up on a video wall. As many as 603 devices are PTZ cameras that could be panned, tilted and zoomed. The remaining 128 are bullet cameras, installed stationary focusing on one particular area.

Police officials say though the bullet cameras are of standard definition, the PTZs are good at face recognition and number plate recognition. The offences are automatically recorded and sent to the server, after which challans are despatched to the offenders.

Be it cattle stranded on the roads, VVIP/VIP movements, hit and run accidents, a rally or an agitation, CCTVs installed in the CBD comes handy to the police, both to monitor law and order problems and in traffic management.

Better coordination

Explains K Ajay Kumar, Assistant Commissioner of Police, Control Room, “Monitoring through CCTV cameras for law and order situations is an advantage for the police. This helps to coordinate and communicate with the officials on the field about a particular situation.”

For instance, when there is a protest happening at Freedom Park, the staff at the command centre learns about the capacity of the crowd through CCTV cameras. Depending on the crowd, police reinforcements are made accordingly, Kumar points out.

Chief Minister’s intent

In October, Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy had announced his intent to install CCTV cameras along every road of Bengaluru to curb the crime rate. If required, he said, the government would spend crores of rupees to install these on every road to arrest rising cases of chain snatching and drug menace.

The Union Ministry for Women and Child Development had in March this year, approved Rs 667 crore for the State under the Nirbhaya Funds. The objective: To provide safety for women in public spaces and transport systems.

Constant surveillance is also critical for security linked to VVIP arrivals and departures and their intra-city movements. At the police Command Centre, the staff also keep a watch on suspicious movements in and around Vidhana Soudha, and the government offices situated around it. This includes the courts.

The staff also use the CCTVs to keep an eye on the destruction of properties or public nuisance including drinking inside parked vehicles in and around Cubbon Park, informs a senior police officer.

Response speed

But how quick is the response? The officer explains: “When the staff comes across any incident while monitoring the CCTV screens, they flash a message to Namma-100. This helpline will depute a Hoysala patrol vehicle to the spot to attend to the incident.” The staff could also help the police identify and capture stolen vehicles through these surveillance cameras.

The new plan to cover over 5,000 areas through CCTV cameras has its spotlight on girl schools, women’s colleges, malls and places of religious worship. “A separate command centre is required to monitor these devices. This will have to be built in an area between 10,000 to 20,000 sqft,” says the police official.

The thinking is this: More the number of cameras, easier it gets for the police to instill a sense of fear among criminals that the ubiquitous CCTVs will eventually get them. More footages would also mean easier evidence collection for the police to prove a case before the courts.

BBMP and surveillance

For the Bruhath Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), surveillance was once thought to be a good way to control mushrooming of garbage black spots across the city. But the Palike’s announcement in November last year that it would install 2,500 CCTV cameras to curb illegal garbage dumping, has largely remained on paper.

 

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