Operators are vulnerable

July 2010 Surveillance

Operators all over the world often live in the same community that criminals also operate in. This can have an impact on them and result in them being intimidated on anything from petty crime monitoring to violent crime and potentially even to terrorism.

Internationally, and particularly in South Africa, we seem to be seeing the increasing development and influence of crime syndicates. Although it is not new, this trend appears to be happening together with a broader culture of corruption and self-enrichment that is emerging in institutions and political positions within the country. It opens up the potential for politically placed syndicate pressure on companies, personnel, and even security practices. This influence can impact on the avoidance of charges because of connections or of a lack of enthusiasm or commitment to pursue charges. CCTV, because of a capacity to generate hard evidence, is often most at threat under such conditions. The question then becomes one of how to preserve and protect the integrity of your operators and security personnel.

There are a number of ways to safeguard operators. These can broadly be allocated within the following strategies.

* Restricting recognition of operator personnel and access to them.

* Allowing operators to personally resist criminal or syndicate influences.

* Providing systems integrity around operators.

Restricting recognition

A strategy to prevent recognition involves trying to restrict general community awareness of who your operators are, and to make it difficult to gain access to them. This is aimed at reducing the chances of operators being contacted or compromised by potential suspects or syndicate members. This is particularly difficult in some cases where the CCTV control rooms are on the company premises, or in the community where the surveillance is being done. There are a number of steps you can take though. These include:

* Do not allow photographs of operators which may find their way to criminal elements, particularly within the control room environment.

* Avoiding having uniforms that identify their role to the community at large. Where personnel are required to wear uniforms, have facilities for them to change at the start and end of shift.

* Have operators avoid talking about their work at home or in the community.

* Separate security offices and operator personnel from the rest of the organisational personnel. In some rural sites, they go as far as separating accommodation from regular operations.

* Try and ensure your operator does not have to go to court as part of the evidence. Signed affidavits testifying to the detection process may assist in this. Where possible, let investigators present evidence and findings in the court environment.

A potential reaction to the threat to operators is to implement off-site monitoring. This has the immediate advantage of removing operators from potential contact with syndicate personnel on site. This can range from placing the CCTV function in different offices to monitoring in other areas of the country or even internationally.

The trouble is as one gets more remote from the area observed, your observers increasing lose the knowledge and feel of what happens in operations, and with this goes a lack of situational awareness of the dynamics and conditions at source. This can be addressed through training to some degree, but where shared monitoring is taking place with a number of companies being monitored through a remote surveillance provider, you need to ensure that your interests are being protected relative to the other clients.

The strategy to develop resistance to criminal approaches or to undue influence is aimed at putting operators in a position that, even if somebody tries to influence them, they can indicate that they would be found out and as such would then be useless for such a purpose. At a personal level, one of the most effective methods is regular polygraphing, although this can have its own complications in employee relations.

Protecting personnel through polygraphing

Polygraphing is a way of ensuring that there is not ongoing compromising of your system. Also ensure that operators are told that they must report any approach by people who indicate criminal intentions. Any contact with operators can then potentially be found out, or it provides a follow up basis for questions in respect of polygraphs or integrity testing. Another approach is to rotate and randomise placements in shifts so operators themselves never know what they will be watching at any time of day. Banning of cellphones from control rooms and restricted use of landlines is another way to prevent communication which may be necessary in order to facilitate an incident.

Conducting of lifestyle audits also allows monitoring of whether people are living beyond their means. This should be a selection criterion as well, as people who are stretched credit wise tend to be more susceptible to influence. On the other hand, by making incident detection worthwhile to the operator who may be receiving relatively low pay, you can also combat syndicate influence. Bonuses for detection or performance management techniques aimed at rewarding detection rates can be used as an incentive to stay true to the company. Use of contract personnel can be an option as they are more easily removed if they prove compromised. Use can also be made of personnel from different contracting companies in different functions to ensure that they watch each other, although my experience is that syndicates often link personnel from different companies.

Monitoring the monitors

A third strategy is to devise electronic monitoring systems, or to set up a series of checks or audits to preserve the integrity of the systems. This approach should protect systems from interference and have a clear audit trail for any changes with clear responsibility for who made such changes. Use of biometric log on procedures can assist in ensuring compliance. The strategy can include the setting up of second tier functions or review functions that audit standard operations from a distance.

Although companies may see their responsibilities ending at the factory gates or office doors, operators may continually come into contact with people who they are monitoring as well as other criminal elements. Syndicates are getting more sophisticated, more ambitious, and more threatening. Companies need to develop strategies to actively counter such actions.

Ultimately, there is a need to deal with such threat at source through a comprehensive approach to deal with syndicate leaders and channels, rather than just seeing the operators as the key interface. This requires a reinforcement of social value systems, strong leadership, and a judicial system and policing that is consistent with these objectives if employees of all types are to be effectively protected from criminal elements. It includes building up a sense of cohesion and teamwork within the operator and security group to fight crime, as well as in the community in which criminals try and operate.

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 craig.donald@leaderware.com


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