CCTV cameras helping police to take back crime-ridden streets in Johannesburg CBD

By Laurence Smith, Executive at Graphic Image Technologies

The Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department (JMPD) recently launched an initiative that has seen more than 400 CCTV cameras cast their watchful gaze over the inner-city streets for public safety purposes. Intended to combat escalating crime, these cameras are linked back to a central control room and monitored around the clock. Backed by the muscle power of 80 armed officers and 100 undercover agents, control room operators hold an enormous responsibility in monitoring these cameras, which makes it important that individuals working in such a capacity have the correct technological tools and analytics solutions at hand, as well as the training on how to respond correctly and timeously to each possible public safety incident. In order for the control room to act as the brains behind effective city surveillance operations, it needs to be properly integrated with every other security and technological component that goes into building toward the goal of a smart, connected and safer city.

Eyes on the ground

In the heart of Johannesburg’s business district, police presence alone is insufficient to combat or prevent crime. This is because humans can’t be or see everywhere at once, but surveillance cameras can. An effective inner-city surveillance system needs a healthy mix of ultra-high definition, pan-tilt-zoom cameras and thermal cameras, linked back to a central, intelligent Video Management System in the control room. Where foot or vehicle traffic is high, 4K cameras can provide sufficient detail during the day to be used in conjunction with AI-driven facial recognition as well as license plate recognition software, which is useful in providing evidence in the prosecution of crimes after the fact. For night-time crime hotspots, thermal cameras prove invaluable – giving a clear picture of the area no matter the time of day, lighting conditions or weather.

In building a surveillance camera network in the city, it is necessary to think of future needs in addition to solving today’s problems. More cameras will eventually need to be added, as the network expands to cover the city so it’s critical that the camera network built is scalable. Choosing the distributor that can assist with systems integration is vital to the long-term efficacy of the surveillance network. Scalable solutions will enable the City of Johannesburg to start small in the most pressing areas and expand as budget becomes available and return on investment is realised.

Augment human responses with technology

Monitoring the feeds from more than 400 cameras is no small task. With the addition of more cameras as the JMPD expand their surveillance operations, this task is only going to get bigger. Technology can lend humans a hand here, as smart Video Management Systems driven by artificial intelligence algorithms can also be used to create automated alerts that will be triggered if the smart analytics encounters predefined suspicious behaviour. For example, a control room operator can be alerted of loitering persons, or individuals that frequently show up in high-risk areas. With such analytics capabilities, camera feeds are constantly monitored for non-compliant behaviour that will require human intervention.

Smart analytics can even ‘learn’ from prior events, which will minimise the number of false alarms over time so that operators are more efficient, only dealing with alerts that indicate real issues. However, in order for these functions to be effective, it is also essential to have the right escalation procedures in place to ensure operators respond timeously to alerts. Security control room operators will need to know which public safety response officers to dispatch – whether it’s the police, medical or fire response – in order to effectively deal with each situation as it arises. This means cameras must be able to map back to physical locations using GPS technology, allowing the operator to pinpoint the exact location of a specific camera to dispatch the right personnel to the scene without delay.

Helping to serve and protect

The benefits of surveillance cameras and the emerging smart city surveillance technologies cannot be emphasised enough. Acting as a crime deterrent, visible cameras send a message to opportunistic criminals that someone is watching. Furthermore, they send a message to citizens that public safety matters, and that the JMPD is taking steps to fulfil their duty to serve and protect. With eyes on the ground and around every corner, the police are able to effectively do more, with less. Through effective control room monitoring and the dispatch of the correct human resources to the right place at the right time, manpower is effectively optimised, less time is wasted and the police are better equipped to do their jobs.

To combat growing levels of hijacking, mugging, pickpocketing and smash and grab robberies in the Robbery Capital of South Africa,  this initiative from the JMPD couldn’t have come a minute sooner. A vital step toward a smarter city, such surveillance camera systems are necessary to watch over citizen safety and will eventually become the visual sensing component of a smarter city that is geared toward enabling better and faster public service delivery in a manner that is resourceful and cost-efficient.

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