The City of Johannesburg says security staff and police have made hundreds of arrests in parts of the metropole as a result of its R42 million closed circuit television (CCTV) system.
City officials say there are some 240 CCTV cameras in the inner city that have recorded some 46 000 incidents since December 2007,with an average of about 260 arrests made each day for crimes ranging from bag snatching, pick pocketing, cellphone theft, assault, robbery, car hijackings, vandalism and smash-and-grab attacks.
The cameras, controlled from a central command centre, run by Omega Risk Solutions (Omega), a private security company, also police the violation of traffic regulations, city by-laws and service delivery issues such as broken mains, street lights and out of order traffic signals.
Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department (JMPD) spokeswoman Inspector Edna Mamonyane says the camera net currently covers Braamfontein, Hillbrow, Joubert Park, Berea, Doornfontein, Johannesburg Stadium and parts of Yeoville.
The cameras, some mounted city lamposts and others on buildings and rooftops, have lenses that can zoom in accurately up to three kilometres. The time and date at which an incident is committed is recorded, and the footage is permitted as evidence in court.
CCTV cameras also cover other areas and facilities outside the CBD, such Fordsburg and Mayfair.
But it is not just the inner city and adjacent suburbs that is being watched over. The zoom function gives operators a view of Soccer City in Nasrec, in the south, and the Sandton CBD in the north.
The cameras are backed by a team of up to 40 plain clothes JMPD and South African Police Service (SAPS) personnel, who respond to incidents and effect arrests, Mamonyane said at a recent media conference. “The JMPD has undercover officers who are just dressed in jeans, takkies and torn T-shirts, and some of the successes were made by them because crime perpetrators were unsuspecting.” Also on call are the city emergency services.
Assistant Commissioner Ngwako Mashao, commander of the Johannesburg central police station said the the success of the operation was because of the collaboration between the two law enforcement agencies.. “We have ensured that we have more members on the ground [who] responds to reports. There is no way we will allow criminals to take our city. We will make sure that with the valuable resources that we have, we are going to drive [criminals] out.”
Mamonyane says the Omega-run command centre employs 85 fully trained operators who work in concert with law enforcers. At the core of the system is ten 1.5m plasma screens that display images from about 15 cameras each, with one person monitoring each screen.
There are about 23 operators per shift, each working 12 hours at a stretch, with an allowance of one hour on the monitor followed by a two-hour break to increase concentration levels and avoid fatigue. In addition, there are 16 police officers in the control room.
“We need our people to remain vigilant and attentive all the time in order to spot crimes effectively. That is why we give them so much time to rest and recuperate,” says Mamonyane.
Omega technical director Thys le Grange says the electronic surveillance system costs R1.2 million a month to operate. He adds monitoring crews are trained to read body language to anticipate incidents almost before they happen. “Incidents taking place any time of day or night are captured on digital video camera, relayed instantaneously to the operation centre`s secure 420 terabyte hard-drive and displayed on a bank of large video screens,” he says.
“Our experience has shown crime declines where criminals know they can be detected – and apprehended in no time at all,” Le Grange adds.
A world-first – according to Omega – is that the centre’s computers are configured to recognise motor vehicle registration numbers in order to identify stolen cars or those with outstanding traffic fines.
City safety strategy programme manager Nazira Cachalia last year said in an interview with a city news service to mark the first year of the system’s operation that crime levels in the city centre had been brought down since the CCTV system went “live”.
“I would say that the project is successful,” she said last December. “A number of successful arrests have
been made while crimes were [still] being perpetrated.”
Through its actions, the City was communicating a strong message, she said. “The City is serious about dealing with crime, and we will continue to invest in initiatives to deter crime and criminality”, Cachalia says.
Mamonyane says the city is now considering expanding the camera network in a bid to alleviate crime in other areas around the central business district, and “eliminate criminal and vagrant hideouts.” Omega’s current 36-month contract ends next December.