Joburg surveillance zooms in

As of Thursday, every street in central Joburg is under camera surveillance, number plates are picked up by computers and run through the eNaTIS system, and response teams are ready to pounce.

Joburg's new CCTV Surveillance Centre - a state-of-the-art set-up, owned and managed by the Joburg metro police department (JMPD) - was launched by mayor Amos Masondo on Wednesday, and is officially up and running.

Already the system has shown to be effective in its initial trial phase, with footage recorded by the 216 new cameras poised around the city centre having captured scores of smash-and-grabs, crashes, muggings and even a murder.

Visuals on screens at Wedneday's launch showed footage of a smash-and-grabber targeting his victim and sprinting off with his loot, only to be confronted and caught a mere seven seconds later.

Horrific footage of a well-built thug beating a man in front of onlookers and later casually gouging into his abdomen with a broken bottle was followed by images of him being confronted by uniformed policemen.

"These were all incidents that happened recently," said JMPD spokesperson Superintendent Wayne Minnaar.

The R42-million system is said to be the biggest communication set-up in Africa, and a world first in terms of cameras being able to pick up number plates and run them through an eNaTIS check that will show whether the car is stolen and list all outstanding fines within two seconds.

"We are now picking up an average of five or six stolen cars each day," said Thys le Grange, the technical director of Omega Risk Solutions, the company contracted to set up and administer the centre.

"We have a dedicated fire network with enough fibre to stretch from here to Namibia, making it the strongest fibre network in Africa."

The system links 216 cameras covering the CBD, Braamfontein, Hillbrow and Joubert Park. Each camera has a 3km zoom range. The images are played out on screens at the centre and monitored by specially trained personnel, who are in contact with response teams on the ground.

The images are converted from video signal to digital format and stored on a 420 terrabyte hard drive weighing 3,5 tons. They are stored in high resolution for 60 days and another 60 days in low resolution, before they are deleted, with all captured incidents being stored permanently.

"There are six dedicated reaction units and the average response time is 60 seconds," Le Grange explained.

The new Surveillance Centre replaces a former CCTV set-up which was more expensive, with far less capacity and was not owned by the city, nor was the JMPD in charge.

Masondo said the new technology was intended to beef up safety in the city and was not intended to do away with visible policing, which would continue as normal.

Another feature of the new centre is the Interactive Remote Monitoring Control Room, which is a similar system of surveillance cameras linked to screens and watched by trained personnel.

These cameras, however, are placed at specific businesses and homes who have registered for it, and have panic buttons and other controls in place to alert the control room in the case of crime.

"At the moment, our trial sites are filling stations and ATMs which are being targeted," said Le Grange, adding that the control room operators are linked to the site via audio and other technology.

"For example, if our operator spots a guy robbing a petrol station, he can get on the microphone and yell 'Are you crazy? We're watching you, don't do it'. And then, if the guy goes ahead, we can fire pepper gas, water or smoke at him, or even shock him. We have that kind of technology," he said.



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