Information blackout on use of CCTV cameras reason for concern

– opposition
There is a dearth of information on the use of surveillance cameras the government installed around the capital, which is fuelling concerns among opposition leaders about what is being done with the captured footage and the impact of the initiative in the local crime fight.

Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee told Stabroek News last Thursday that the images captured by the closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras are being stored at the Central Intelligence Unit building, located behind Castellani House. “Whenever there is need to use them as they so decide, they will be used,” Rohee said.

When asked if the images are being utilised by the Guyana Police Force, the minister said “no, not as far as I am aware.” He explained that the use of the footage has to be cleared by a board that has been established to overlook the functioning of the unit.

Clement Rohee

Recently, a letter writer recently said that after millions of dollars were spent to purchase the cameras from an unknown source, the taxpayers at least deserve to know if they have received value for money, in the light of the lack of information about their use in preventing or solving crimes.
Marcus Craig, in a letter published in the November 8 edition of Stabroek News said that the cameras at the junction of Lamaha and Irving streets should have provided vital footage in relation to the recent slaying of Ricardo Rodrigues’ bodyguard, Marlon Osborne, in Queens-town as well in the accident at the junction involving businessman Frank De Abreu’s car and a fire tender.

“The getaway car used in the execution would have had to pass the cameras at that junction. Investigators using that footage should be able to gather some crucial information such as the time of execution, colour and description of car, number of persons occupying the car, direction in which the car was heading after the shooting, and most importantly, visual profiles of persons in the front seat, Craig wrote.

As a result of conflicting accounts about the accident, Craig added that speculation about the direction in which the fire tender was travelling can easily be verified by replaying the footage on the cameras mounted at the junction.

In relation to the De Abreu case, Rohee said “definitely the police would be allowed to view images. That is part of it.”

However, he said it is unclear if this information would be provided by way of a request or if it would be part of a normal procedure.”I am not aware of how they are going about it because that is more or less internal, so I don’t try to acquaint myself with those internal operational issues about the operating procedures… I think they will work it out among themselves.”
Acting Police Commis-sioner Leroy Brumell could not be reached for comment despite continuous attempts to contact him.

However, a police source told this newspaper recently that not much information is being revealed about the project. The source said that based on reports, at least a few of the cameras are functioning because this was evident in a police investigation earlier this year. The police source pointed out though that there are now questions surrounding the output of the cameras, since it was found during the investigation that while images were captured, the quality was not useful. The source explained that footage showed people moving about but their faces were unrecognisable.

“Now, one has to wonder if these cameras really make sense,” the source said, adding that the cameras could be useful to many police investigations.

‘More questions than answers’
A Partnership for National Unity (APNU) leader David Granger told Stabroek News that if used properly, the cameras could be useful to the police.

But he said recently that the government has never made any attempt to update the parliament on the successes or failures of the initiative. “There are more questions than answers,” he said, adding that as a result the issue will be raised in the National Assembly at some point as it is “something that needs to be questioned.”
Granger told Stabroek News that it has been noticed that nothing has been said [by government] about the cameras. “I don’t know what sort of staffing they have to read and interpret what is being recorded, how quickly the information is transmitted, the use of the footage, who commands it and so on. I am deeply concerned about this because I am unaware of the organisational structure handling it,” he said.

According to Granger, if the cameras are actually working, then what they capture could be useful in the areas of crime and traffic.  He said that one needs to know if the footage collected is just being stored or whether it is also being viewed and used.

He too said that the cameras would be useful in the investigation into the daylight execution of Osborne, who was gunned down in Queens-town last month. Granger pointed out the shooters were travelling in a car and would have had to use a route that the cameras could have been used to trace.

Like Granger, Alliance for Change (AFC) leader Khemraj Ramjattan said that he had received no information about the cameras. He said that while his party has a desire to raise the issue in Parliament, it would not be done now as it would be Rohee who has to answer their questions and concerns.

The opposition has been protesting against the minister’s continued participation in the House, after a no-confidence motion was passed against him. Ramjattan said that the minister’s inability to make information available to the members of the National Assembly is “yet another reason for him to go.” He pointed out that Rohee has an obligation to come out and say if the cameras were a profitable investment.

Ramjattan said he suspects that the reason why the information has not been forthcoming is because certain government officials have been engaged in offensive behaviour and he added that he personally knew of three such cases.

Government had promised the installation of the cameras at the height of the crime spree back in 2005. It was felt that the cameras could go a far way in helping to solve some of the crimes being committed in the city, especially armed robberies that soared towards the end of that year despite a heightened police presence. However, the installation of cameras did not begin until last August.

In July this year, when asked about the usefulness of the footage captured, Cabinet Secretary Dr Roger Luncheon had said, “I don’t think that any has so far been used as evidence in court but they have been used as far as I am aware to investigate different offences.” He did not explain what those “different offences” were, but insisted that they were functioning.

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