Camera Surveillance
By Maxwell Pereira
mfjpkamath@gmail.com

Following the Good Friday blasts inside the historic Jama Masjid, there were reports of Delhi Police discussing with mosque managements the installation of CCTVs at entrances and premises of mosques in Delhi. A majority of the capital’s important temples have already been brought under CCTV cover, but not a single mosque has this facility yet.

CCTVs for policing are not new in Delhi. Introduced in the Traffic Department in the late 70s, there’re in use for over 35 years now. The initial five cameras installed atop tall buildings like Vikas Minar, Delhi Police Headquarters, the NDMC tower, etc. helped monitor busy traffic junctions over IP Marg, Tilak Marg and Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg, the Parliament Street, and Kasturba Gandhi Marg/Connaught Place near Statesman/Scindia House.

The scheme remained stagnant though for the next thirty odd years, when around the turn of the new millennium a burst of fresh initiative by Delhi’s then Traffic managers saw the first of three speed-check cum red-light-jumping detection cameras come on the scene. Soon followed by extending the facility of camera surveillance from traffic control exclusively, also to the crime control arena. The areas to benefit with permanent camera fixtures were Parliament Street where political and highly volatile and controversial public agitations, demonstrations and related violence is the order of the day; and the vulnerable banking and jewellery market areas of Karol Bagh, where traders were motivated to partner Delhi Police in the venture. Sadar Bazar and Chandni Chowk too followed suit to benefit from camera surveillance.

In the meantime the police modernisation scheme for upgrading of police stations, saw CCTVs introduced in all police stations of Delhi to facilitate monitoring by senior officials of crucial public dealing areas like Duty Officers’ rooms, lock-ups, interrogation rooms and such other pockets the monitoring of which is considered crucial for management and administration.
Comparing this with practices elsewhere, one would be amazed to know that in the UK there were more than 6000 speed cameras in England and Wales alone by end 2004, while Delhi even now is crowing with only seven such (four more by this year end)! While Delhi was not too far behind England in introducing its first speed camera in late 90s, in Japan I had seen them much before - as early as in 1990 – six of them installed along the route from Narita airport to Tokyo city.
The British Government justified their use of speed cameras with an independent report that claimed the cameras were reducing casualty rates in road accidents by 40 percent and saving 100 lives a year. Commissioned by Ministers from academics at University College London, the report studied more than half of the 42 police force areas where cameras are used.
The study showed that in the three years to 2003 a 40 percent reduction in the number of people killed or seriously injured, a 33 percent drop in injury accidents, and a 35 percent cut in the number of pedestrians killed or seriously injured. It found average speeds at existing camera sites fell by around 7 percent and the number of vehicles speeding at new camera sites dropped by 71 percent. And that 79 percent of people surveyed supported the use of cameras to reduce casualties. The installation of new cameras is totally funded from speeding fines generated by the existing cameras.
In India we have been crying hoarse for years requesting the government to plough back revenue raised through traffic fines into developing road safety infrastructure and into road safety projects including equipment. The Delhi Traffic Police alone enriches the national exchequer each year with nearly 50crore rupees through traffic fines realised, while the total annual budget allocation for the traffic police which includes installation and maintenance of traffic signals is under ten crores!
In the crime prevention and crime control area, cameras can definitely help investigators identify suspects once a crime has been committed. To what extent they can prevent crime is of course debatable. A 2002 study in the UK concluded that surveillance cameras used in 14 British cities had little or no impact on crime rates, just as they didn't keep terrorists from bombing the London subway system last year. But police agencies worldwide were impressed when their British counterparts drew on 80,000 videotapes to identify and retrace the routes of the subway system suicide bombers and the suspects in a failed follow-up attack.

So in the USA, the NYPD have deployed this month the first of 500 Security Cameras, launching their ambitious plan to combat street crime and terrorism. Wireless video cameras now peer down from lamp posts about 30 feet above the sidewalk. These 500 cameras when placed throughout the city will cost $9 million. New York has plans for hundreds more to safeguard Lower Manhattan and parts of midtown with a surveillance "ring of steel" at an additional cost of $81.5 million modelled after security measures in London's financial district. The city already has about 1,000 cameras in the subways, with 2,100 scheduled to be in place by 2008. An additional 3,100 cameras monitor city housing projects.

Elsewhere in the US, Chicago spent roughly $5 million on a 2,000-camera system. Homeland Security officials in Washington plan to spend $9.8 million for surveillance cameras and sensors on a rail line near the Capitol. And Philadelphia has increasingly relied on video surveillance.

While privacy advocates react saying the camera plan needs more study and safeguards to preserve privacy and guard against abuses like racial profiling and voyeurism, police officials insist that law-abiding New Yorkers have nothing to fear because the cameras will be restricted to public areas. Supporting the police move, specialists feel the measures make sense – as law enforcement needs to use whatever tools they can to keep the city safe.

April 24, 2006: 950 words: Copy Right © Maxwell Pereira: 3725 Sec-23, Gurgaon-122002. You can interact with the author at http:// www.maxwellperira.com and maxpk@vsnl.com

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