With the passage of this year’s $7.4 billion budget for the Guyana Police Force, it is expected that some of the money will be used to purchase the equipment necessary to facilitate a live feed from the government installed CCTV cameras to the police, according to Acting Police Commissioner Seelall Persaud.
The cameras were installed more than a year ago and the delay in giving police access to live footage has raised concerns not only about why the police were not incorporated into the arrangement from the beginning, but also who currently has access to the footage.
It was Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee who on January 3 said that the Defence Board has given approval for the setting up of a direct feed to the headquarters of the police force at Eve Leary.
Three months after this announcement was made, this has not been done. Asked recently by Stabroek News, Persaud said that this is slated to be done from funds allocated in this year’s budget.
Speaking following the conclusion of the opening ceremony of the Police Officers’ Annual Conference Persaud indicated that the live feed is not yet in place. He said this will be done as soon as money from this year’s budget “starts coming through. The equipment was supposed to be acquired from this year’s budget.”
The $220 billion budget was presented to the National Assembly on March 24. It was passed on April 16, but $37.4 billion was cut by the opposition. The budgetary allocations for the Ministry of Home Affairs under which the police force falls however were untouched and were approved.
Rohee had said back in January that as a member of the Defence Board, the ministry had constantly supported the view that CCTV cameras in the city should be used on a real-time basis to fight crime.
Last July, Persaud who was then the crime chief had told Stabroek News that the police had signalled their interest in having live access to the images to fight crime. On that occasion he told the media that steps were being taken to access live images from the cameras.
“[The] feed is going to an organisation other than the police but there are efforts now in place to give the police a feed… it falls under the Office of the President. I think it is an organisation in the making… we have access [to the images] by request,” Persaud said.
Persaud had also said that camera surveillance should be expanded. “I think it is a programme that needs to be expanded. It has helped in some incidents of crime, it has helped a whole lot in traffic investigations … there is need to expand it and there is [an] effort right now to have feeds directly to the police so that we can independently research and use what evidence is collected there,” he said.
One security official has made the observation that the police ought not to be begging for a live feed but rather this arrangement should have been put in place by the authors of this project from the inception.
The source said that given the fact that the primary objective of the cameras would have been to assist the police in the areas of crime and traffic, the force should have been among the first on the list to get live feed. The source opined that given the fact that it has been said that the images captured by the cameras are being stored in a building located behind the Castellani House compound, points to politics. The building being referred to is named the Central Intelligence Unit (CIU).
“That is a political place. It obviously set up as a political thing,” the source commented while adding that the information ought to be collected by an independent body which is separate from the government and whose members will review the footage in keeping with the purposes intended.
“If they wanted the police to get real time information it should have been done from the inception, especially if law enforcement is the intended purpose of the cameras,” the source said in response to the announcement that the force will now be getting a live feed. The source said too that it is also puzzling that the announcement came some time after the cameras had already been installed at various points around the city.
According to the source, “feeding the police a piece” is not right; they should have been in control of the footage from the outset.
“All of this tell you that they are not looking for immediate action but rather are storing and later reviewing recordings,” the source said.
According to the source, what ought to be done now, is that the person who had access to this real time feed should be revealed: “We don’t know who had the real time feed. It may be the political people and then the question will be, why they have it?”
The source also questioned what the current procedure is for the police to get the recording since they are not getting a live feed.
It was pointed out that the British have a similar system in place and as such “it will be useful to see how it works here. They have had some successes.”
No guarantees of convictions
The source observed that there are some positives as well as negatives in the setting up of these cameras. “CCTV is no guarantee of conviction,” the source said, adverting to a recent case where a murderer was freed even though the entire world witnessed the shooting episode which was recorded by a private CCTV camera. The case the source was referring to was the Orange Walk killing.
He queried whether some of the footage which will not be available to the police will automatically be placed before the court if the case requires it: “They need to address that. Once we acquire footage, what will be the legal position?” The source went on to say that the court must be able to demand that the police produce the recording whether it was taken by a private camera or the government installed cameras. It was noted that a rank not bringing a recording to court that the entire public has seen should not be an excuse to dismiss a case. “Lock up the people who fail to do it [produce the recording] because failing to do this is an injustice,” it was said.
According to the source, another area of concern is tampering. He urged that the possibility of “cutting and doctoring” footage should be looked at. The source said that if some of the footage ended up before the court as evidence, the court must be able to establish that it is genuine. In this regard, the magistrate must have technical persons available to help determine if a recording has been “doctored.”
“What you want is what is shown real time. You want to make sure what is presented is presented and that it is not something that you can cut and slice,” the source said.
Stabroek News was told that technology on the whole is dangerous and could present challenges to law enforcement. As such when it comes to the surveillance footage one ought to be very careful.
“It can be easily abused. There are people who are skilled enough to tamper with footage. I can see both benefits and dangers with this footage,” the source remarked.
Government had promised the installation of the cameras at the height of the crime spree back in 2005. It was felt that these 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 August 2011.
Rohee has continually said that the cameras are working.
The number of cameras installed so far is unknown but it may be in the vicinity of 130.
Government has repeatedly refused to provide information on the CIU, who it is answerable to and what is actually being done with the CCTV feed. In several high-profile murders, members of the public have asked why the feed has not been used to track down criminals. In one case of the killing of a cop, the cameras appeared not to have been properly positioned. There are also lingering questions as to whether they are functioning properly.
Stabroek News during a visit to the CIU had attempted to get information but without success.