The City of Johannesburg's camera surveillance system is keeping a beady eye on the inner city and is already helping to minimise crime. It is now well over six months since the City expanded its network of closed circuit television (CCTV) surveillance cameras.  This was done to bolster safety and security and to mitigate petty crime, which has plagued Joburg's central business district for many years.

Expansion was undertaken by Omega Risk Solutions, who specialise in CCTV surveillance, involving the installation of 216 cameras, most of which are now operational.

"Our rollout plan entails the installation of 216 cameras in total," confirms Gerrie Gerneke, a director of licensing, prosecutions, municipal courts and special projects in the Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department (JMPD).

The CCTV operation is integrated with the City's broader Safety and Security Strategy, which entails combating all crime in Johannesburg, from bag snatching, pick pocketing and cell phone theft, to smash-and-grab attacks, indecent assault, robbery and other serious crime.

The main idea is to stop all crime and improve the quality of life and personal safety of all people in the city - residents and workers - so that they can enjoy being in the CBD without threat of harm.

Gerneke explains: "The presence of CCTV cameras in the CBD has created a sense of safety and security. Businesses are re-investing in the CBD and shops are operating later than the normal time."

To intensify its safety efforts, the City has partnered with the South African Police Service and private security companies, and a strong contingent of officers, metro cops and security guards have been deployed across the city centre. In all, over 300 uniformed police officers and security guards patrol the CBD everyday, with an additional 50 in plain clothes and driving unmarked vehicles. Omega's surveillance system uses direct radio contact with the officers on patrol, which makes it easy for them to respond swiftly to a crime as it unfolds, as well as clamp down on criminals.

In confirmation, JMPD superintendent and spokesman Wayne Minnaar says that the police are always in the loop to descend on criminals who are spotted by the cameras. This helps them substantially in their bid to stop crime in the city centre.  He says that the presence of CCTV cameras is a positive one. "We are in full view of criminals, and we are chasing them out of the CBD."

The surveillance is not only used to track down criminals, however. "An important point to note is that the City will be using CCTV for more that just crime detection and prevention; it will broaden its use to include monitoring of traffic and service delivery problems, and to identify potential hazards."

Gerneke says that the CCTV surveillance system is essential in helping the police to pounce on criminals. It provides the right tools and services for cops to do their jobs efficiently.  He speaks about an incident in which the cameras spotted a Pikitup employee loading stormwater drain covers, and selling them to scrap metal dealers. Two arrests have recently been made in connection with cable theft, and another one related to stolen music equipment valued at R70 000.

These arrests gauge the success of the entire operation. "Any criminal activities are detected quicker," Gerneke notes. "Proactive and reactive measures will always be taken sooner. Our resources can also be utilised optimally and more effectively."

The futuristic model used by Omega incorporates the most up-to-date features and technology, making Joburg's surveillance system one of the most modern and sophisticated in the world.

It is operated from a building on Rissik Street, with the control room staffed with fully trained operators who work closely with the law enforcers laced around the CBD. The nerve centre is filled with more than 10 large screens - one meter by half-a-meter in size - that monitor about 15 cameras each, with one person operating the desk.

A camera on the building's roof gives the operators a helicopter view of the city, helping the police to monitor the CBD closely and alerting them to clamp down on thugs who pester pedestrians and motorists.  The cameras have a clear lens that can zoom in accurately up to three kilometers. The time and date on which a crime is committed is recorded, and this is permitted as evidence in courts.

Although Minnaar concedes that the police still deal with petty crime, he says that there have been major improvements since the new system was introduced. And, over time, the public can expect to see less crime in the CBD.

"We have already started to close down these criminals and soon the CBD will be rid of all the petty crime that has ridden it for years," Minnaar says. CCTV coverage includes the inner city, Mayfair and Fordsburg. When fully installed, it will cover Braamfontein, Joubert Park and Doornfontein.

Comprehensive CCTV surveillance of access routes into the CBD, and at other key sites, will bolster safety and security. "Since the inception of the CCTV camera operation in the CBD, there has been a drastic reduction in all crime levels," Gerneke notes.

He says that surveillance cameras are successful in helping the law enforcement agencies keep crime to a minimum and apprehend criminals.

Joburg is in talks to expand the coverage of the surveillance cameras to football venues from next year. "We want to cover areas around the stadiums with regard to the 2009 Confederations Cup and the 2010 World Cup," Gerneke confirms.

Source: City of Johannesburg website, www.joburg.org.za,