The South African model of CCTV is the one which Guyana should follow

Dear Editor,

As advertised, the Government of Guyana has undertaken to establish a modern forensic laboratory to be housed at the University of Guyana, Turkeyen Campus, while a new intelligence organization is to be located in the Castellani House compound and a modern police training college at Eve Leary. The installation of open street surveillance cameras in designated public places has already begun as part of the conceptual framework for the modernisation of public safety in Guyana.

To date, there has not been much consultation or public information with respect to exactly what model of CCTV deployment the Government of Guyana intends to pursue. While some figures have being provided, the general public can only guess as to the true implications of it and how it will impact negatively or positively upon their lives.

The fact that public safety is by definition a stereotypical ‘public good’ means it cannot be traded efficiently in competitive markets. This is why public safety is primarily provided by the government and financed through taxation. However, the government cannot always pay for public safety out of its own pocket, and the financing for surveillance cameras, which are very expensive to maintain, needs to be suplemented in some form or fashion in order for them to remain operable. The Nigerian government’s inability to sustain its CCTV programme is but one case in point.

Many studies conducted in developed countries have shown that open street surveillance cameras have received mixed reviews, and that the benefits do not necessarily justify their huge installation and maintenance costs. These studies have been conducted primarily in European countries, Australia and New Zealand. The decision to implement CCTV in European countries is driven by crime prevention considerations. Thus, CCTV crime prevention schemes in most European countries are financed by the government or municipal authorities.

China has announced its intention to unveil the largest ‘big brother’ network of CCTV in the world. The Chinese government will spend £2.6 billion to install a network of 500,000 surveillance cameras which will commence in 2012. As in India, however, the driving force behind the Chinese scheme is the suppression of civil and religious unrest, although in India the prevention of terrorism is also a primary focus of the scheme. Nevertheless, crime and the monitoring and delivery of emergency services are reportedly spin-off benefits of both projects. It would seem that most developing countries have found it prudent to develop a model of CCTV deployment which takes into account their specific circumstances.

As in the UK, in Brazil, Nigeria and Mexico the schemes have been financed primarily through government or municipal financing, and as such have been limited by fiscal constraints.

Of all the countries under review, South Africa has done the most research and has contributed the most to the body of literature on CCTV deployment. In fact, CCTV deployment is greatest in that country given the size of its population, though it accounts for one third of all new electronic equipment purchased on the Indian security market as of late.

The following observations have been made by the British with regard to CCTV schemes, and they should know, since that country has the most CCTV cameras in the world – one for every 32 citizens. The cost of CCTV as a crime prevention measure includes not only the initial investment but also the ongoing maintenance and running costs. For this reason, any cost effectiveness analysis (of part of a post-installation evaluation or a pre-installation feasibility study) must account for these factors, in particular the staff time required to monitor the cameras and training cost.

It was found in the UK that CCTV civilian operators tend to adopt police categories of suspicion when viewing the screens. The target selection criterion of CCTV operators can be very discriminatory towards males, particularly black males.

When the South African trial scheme was first introduced in four metropolitan areas the operators learnt from their counterparts that it had been suggested that crime prevention initiatives follow a finite ‘life cycle’ and for this reason they must be closely monitored to ensure that successes are maintained. It was found in most studies of CCTV that some offence categories showed the most significant reductions after the cameras had been installed but before they actually became operational, suggesting a deterrence, as opposed to a detection, effect.

The South Africans have tapped into their highly trained work force and have since addressed problems associated with poor video footage which makes it impossible for it to be tendered in a court of law, which is a common problem worldwide. Installation problems often result in poor video quality, and there can be problems associated with poor outdoor public lighting affecting video quality, which is bound to be a major concern in Guyana.

Public obstacles in the case of Nigeria, Brazil, Mexico and  South Africa have obscured the ‘vision’ of forty-five per cent of all open street CCTV cameras, thus rendering them ineffective.

The South Africans have enlisted the services of Dr Craig Donald, a renowned human factor specialist in security and CCTV deployment, to address issues associated with the training of operators, and the construction of ergonomically sound control rooms, which take into consideration such factors as a high camera to operator ratio, a constant source of concern and frustration, and a cause of poor CCTV monitoring by operators who work under constant stress.

It is my view that given the body of literature available on the various CCTV deployment schemes, a model which seeks to integrate the delivery of several services to the citizenry such as that which currently exists in South Africa, might best serve the needs of Guyana. Perhaps, my only other concern could be summarized in the words of Richard Escalante, who said, “The transfer of surveillance systems to developing countries can aid national security interest, or risk becoming technologies of political control.”

Yours faithfully,
Clairmont Featherstone

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