Cape Town - He flings a stone, smashing the car’s window. The movement is quick, a flicker only, picked up by the CCTV camera trained on his face. He checks to see if the coast is clear before diving into the vehicle and fishing out its contents.
It’s a typical “break and take”, one of many common crimes committed in Cape Town, and now it can be viewed online.
Be City Smart is a new website dedicated to safety, and instead of communicating its message through slogans or mildly scary photo shoots, the creators have repurposed CCTV footage to educate people on how the Mother City’s criminals operate.
The idea came to Gil Lang, who works for Safety Lab, an innovation incubator, after he was shown candid footage of a thief using remote car jamming to steal a car. The technique involves blocking the signal from the cars with the remote and preventing the doors from locking.
“A couple of days later, I parked in Sea Point and as I locked my car I saw the lights and the blinker didn’t go off. Thanks to the footage I knew exactly what was happening.”
Not only did he keep his car, but he now had a novel concept. He and his team approached the city and asked if they could have access to footage shot across town showing these thieves in action.
Two years and a few discussions later, they were working closely with the city’s metro police, poring over hard drives of footage at the city’s “Cyclops” centre to find the best examples of petty crimes.
Safety Lab then worked with the footage, blurring out identities and circling the subtle movements made by the criminals.
In one clip, a couple kissing on Long Street becomes the target of an opportunistic pickpocket who leans in to slide something out of the man’s jacket pocket.
In another, the camera follows a man as he runs across the highway before smashing open the window of a Mercedes sedan and grabbing a bag from the front seat.
Lang said the footage would educate people on what to look out for when out clubbing or driving home. “This project speaks directly to educating people as to how easy it can be to become a victim,” Lang said.
As of Wednesday, there were six categories of crimes, each accompanied by two example videos. The crimes range from the ATM scams to smash and grabs.
But Lang said they planned to expand on this as new types of crimes were spotted by the city’s network of CCTV cameras.
Since its launch, the site has attracted a few hundred page hits. Lang is hoping that viewers will share the footage with one another, and that the site’s popularity might spread by word of mouth.
The Cape Town Central City Improvement District’s chief executive Tasso Evangelinos said: “Public awareness is two-thirds of the battle won against these types of crimes.
“This project speaks directly to educating people as to how easy it can be to become a victim if you expose yourself to an opportunistic criminal.”
* Visit www.becitysmart.co.za