CCTV and information in dealing with syndicate crime

September 2011 Surveillance

The growth of crime in South Africa and abroad is seeing an increasing phenomenon of the professionalisation of crime. Rather than people taking advantage of opportunities if they arise, syndicate groups are creating the conditions to commit crime.

They are continually probing for weaknesses, sharing information, creating opportunities, exploiting weaknesses, and systematically stealing from companies and individuals. This is leading to the continual compromising of infrastructure (electricity, trains), draining of resources from companies, negative images of organisations or locations (eg, airport baggage/tourist destinations), and personal loss (outside banks, at ATMs, homes, in our cars on the road). Syndicates are in just about every industry where there is some kind of value, they have the potential to influence people in government, and they attempt to compromise the police and judicial systems.

Syndicates do not have to be made up of large criminal groups, they can vary from a couple of people to thousands. The key criteria are organised criminals, acting in a planned manner, and specialising in a particular sector. Even a couple of people working together and repeatedly committing similar and planned crimes in a particular fashion becomes a syndicate. Locations such as casinos can have a number of types of syndicates, while single operations can experience a number of syndicates working in opposition to each other.

One company I am familiar with had an operator with a great detection rate, and it turned out that he was catching members of a rival syndicate. Syndicates elicit information from a variety of sources, including inside the company. We now have people joining companies with the express purpose of stealing from them, rather than just looking for a job. Syndicate members actively attempt to bypass or compromise security systems, and often security personnel themselves are compromised or part of syndicates, turning a blind eye or even actively participating in the theft itself.

A range of security and protection measures may be put in place, and CCTV can be central to one of these. However, having an operator simply watching a stack of CCTV monitors to see if anything is likely to happen is not likely to provide a solution. When dealing with syndicates, one is not just wanting to catch one person, but you should be trying to get the other members who are working with him or her. At times this may even involve not apprehending a suspect who has been detected in favour of working out who he or she may be with. The more one can relate potential suspects together, the more one can deal effectively with the potential threat posed over the long term. This requires an interaction between CCTV getting information from other sources to direct viewing, and passing on information to investigation and intelligence sources to empower them to establish links and credible evidence for follow up.

An effective strategy to deal with syndicates will include, among others, steps to:

1. Establish a CCTV strategy to evaluate and constantly monitor and audit the integrity of systems and establish ways to measure whether you are doing this effectively.

2. Ensure the integrity of people in the system and continually validate people to ensure they do not have organised crime links.

3. Identify target suspects within and outside operations and build an exchange of information on such targets with other systems. This includes recording and storing information on suspicious behaviours.

4. Identify links between personnel and establish who are potential suspects in order to get a picture of the broader threat profile and who is involved.

5. Make a commitment to follow through on detection and prosecute transgressors caught inside and outside the organisation.

In the 2011 iLegal conference, we have speakers from a variety of sectors who will discuss the kinds of syndicate challenges they are faced with and some of the strategies and solutions they are adopting. Along with this are some highly respected legal speakers who can advise on legislative and other issues that can help and hinder your own approach, with a panel discussion allowing you to tap into the experiences of using CCTV and information to effectively detect and prevent crime in your organisations.

Dr Craig Donald is a human factors specialist in security and CCTV. He is a director of Leaderware which provides instruments for the selection of CCTV operators, X-ray screeners and other security personnel in major operations around the world. He also runs CCTV Surveillance Skills and Body Language, and Advanced Surveillance Body Language courses for CCTV operators, supervisors and managers internationally, and consults on CCTV management. He can be contacted on +27 (0)11 787 7811 or


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