Keeping a watchful eye on CBD crime

April 2011 CCTV, Surveillance & Remote Monitoring

Businesses around the country can testify to the bottom line benefits of CCTV systems in their fight against theft and fraud. Monitoring Joe Soap on the streets of our CBDs however, has also provided a number of dividends for the taxpayer. Hi-Tech Security Solutions looks at the role CCTV plays in our city centres.

The friendly city

In 2005 preparatory security system measures were put in place by the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality in a run up to the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The intention was to provide an holistic security master plan approach.

Gary Cowper-Johnson, whose company Afrisec supplied, installed and project managed the programme, said that the ambitious plan was not without its challenges, but that it ultimately resulted in an integrated security solution that has curbed crime and had a number of positive knock-on effects since it was launched in early 2010.

Gary Cowper-Johnson
Gary Cowper-Johnson

“This was a legacy structure and its budgetary approval and incorporation has resulted in a comprehensive security master plan for Port Elizabeth that has provided the municipality with a number of opportunities beyond the original intention of the initiative,” said Cowper-Johnson.

Cowper-Johnson cited a number of examples where the system is used in an out-of-the-box application. “Since 2010 we have installed additional Pelco PTZ CCTV cameras on the beachfront. This has been a boon for the lifeguards and beach office and resulted in zero drowning fatalities on the beach over the busy December holiday period.”

Still on the beach, the incorporation of Flir thermal imaging cameras have allowed the NSRI team to search for bathers and craft over a distance of 2,8 km. “In another interesting marine application, we have been able to monitor the activities of vandals who kept damaging the solar panels on a bell buoy. And let us not forget how the system has resulted in the apprehension of perlemoen poachers who thought they could not be detected swapping their catch from one rubber duck to another out at sea,” said Cowper-Johnson.

Back in the city centre, the cameras are playing a role in crowd control in the NMBM disaster management joint operations centre. “On a preventative level, the cameras provide instantaneous feedback on overcrowding at events like the International Ironman competition, thus allowing the security personnel to take proactive action and prevent injuries or fatalities,” said Cowper-Johnson.

The Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality control room
The Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality control room

The Municipality deploys the mobile surveillance unit and CCTV trailers to areas of need, such as hotspots and special assignments. “The Waste Management department called for assistance with a problem they had with illegal dumping in specific locations. We utilised a three-pronged approach by placing the mobile surveillance units at some of the locations, redirecting the existing cameras and installing a number of new cameras at the remaining locations. Together with footage acquired from the cameras, an e-ticketing system now allows the municipality to fine the offenders by recording their licence plate number,” said Cowper-Johnson.

The biggest challenge faced by the municipality is the training of control room operators to the necessary levels of competency. “Dr Craig Donald – an authority on human factors in CCTV management and operations, selection and assessment techniques, and training and performance management – was called in to upskill and train the current and potential workforce within the security division of the Municipality. Afrisec’s scope also included psychometric testing, directing medical examinations and assisting the Municipality in acquiring background checks on employees.”

Some of the cameras that were originally sited at the fan parks and the stadium, have been relocated to the route that the Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) system will follow. “We have also added a number of new cameras to the route and these will monitor the position of each bus as well as provide feedback on potential and actual criminal activity,” said Cowper-Johnson.

“In all, we have allocated a further 100 cameras and together with the three new thermal imaging cameras, as well as the nine CCTV trailers and one mobile surveillance unit – all fitted with thermal imaging – the municipality now has extensive coverage (over 700 cameras on the network) of the CBD, beachfront and bus route.

Cowper-Johnson said that although the initial 2010 Soccer World Cup project was concentrated on the stadium, fan parks and city centre with some beachfront coverage, the aim going forward is to expand the surveillance to the outlying northern areas like Uitenhage, Dispatch, Motherwell, New Brighton, Kwanobuhle etc. “We in fact anticipate that at least 80% of all the cameras in future will be in these areas.”

The Mother city

In 1999 The City of Cape Town became the first city in South Africa to institute a CCTV surveillance system in its CBD, a project that continues to unfold and grow today.

Business Against Crime (BAC) was the driving force for the project as businesses and general public suffered the full force of crime within the CBD and especially around Grand Parade. Ridwan Wagiet, the Metropolitan police director for CCTV at the City of Cape Town, said that prior to the launch of the surveillance project SAPS’ Raymond Dowd had installed two observation towers, manned by SAPS officers using binoculars. “However, since the Grand Parade is a National Heritage Site, the towers were deemed to be not aesthetically pleasing and were removed.

“The City then installed two ‘Mickey Mouse’ CCTV cameras which really did nothing to help fight crime, but in 1998 when we were unsuccessful with our bid to host the 2004 Olympics, this prompted the initiation of an alternative solution by BAC,” said Wagiet.

The pilot project incorporated 12 cameras and this expanded to 72 cameras in 1999 when a budget of R8,5 million was allocated to CBD security. BAC acquired the financial support of the business population in the area but, due to the high operational costs, was forced to hand the project over to the city in order to protect the investment. The city subsequently produced a budget that led to the formation of a public-private partnership tasked with planning, instituting and managing the project.

The city faced a number of challenges with the rolling out of the initial stages of the project. “Our biggest challenge was the network required to link the cameras to the two control rooms, sited in the CBD and the Transport Management Centre. We decided to investigate the use of our own wireless system after endless problems with Telkom’s fibre-optic system,” Wagiet said.

Andre Potgieter, MD of Fibre-Based Integration (FBI), suppliers of the Teleste fibre-optic core transmission network to the City of Cape Town, said that the installation has grown in terms of both size and technology. “The system launched on a point to point system, moved to asychronous transfer mode (ATM) and has now graduated to a fully fledged IP system.”

With the exception of the CBD, which currently still runs on rented Telkom fibre, the fibre system is now fully owned by the City of Cape Town. “It would have been ideal if we could have installed our own fibre-optic backbone from the outset, but at the time protection laws meant we were forced to follow the Telkom route,” Wagiet said. “Our aim now is to slowly phase out the Telkom lines and replace them with the Teleste-installed fibre solution.”

In a similar fashion to the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality system, the City of Cape Town not only utilises its network of cameras for crime detection and prevention but together with other City services, also provides the taxpayers with more bang for their buck. “This includes monitoring of fires, protest marches and streets, and for maintenance purposes.

Both Potgieter and Wagiet agree that when one considers launching a project of this nature and magnitude, one should not only look at the CAPEX required but, more importantly, at the OPEX needed to maintain the system.

With 1500 cameras currently linked onto Teleste fibre backbones, FBI has the biggest installation in the country’s CBDs than any other network, so Potgieter is justified in saying: “This project almost failed in its initial stages due to budgetary constraints in terms of operational costs and this is a problem endemic to all installations.”

Wagiet is optimistic about the future of the City of Cape Town’s system. “We have addressed the issue of training by bringing Dr Craig Donald in to assess and improve the skills levels of our staff and determine their suitability for the job at hand. In addition, we are exploring the possibility of placing disabled people in our two control rooms to complement our current employee base.

“We have learned a lot of valuable lessons along the way and we are now in a position to plan ahead for the complete surveillance of all of the Cape’s CBDs and the public transport interchanges,” Wagiet concluded.

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