Sunday, 13 June 2010

Using CCTVs to Check Crimes in Our Cities

Joachim Ezeji

The increasing wave of crime in urban Nigeria is already a cause for concern. Owerri and Port Harcourt, just like many other major towns in Nigeria are already taking their shares of many of these crimes. Crimes like Armed Robbery, Assassination, Car Snatching and kidnapping of human beings for ransom etc are already big blots in most of our cities.
These crimes have continued to happen without any effective mitigation strategy or arrest of perpetrators. Other dangerous trends on the rise are the unabated rate of fly-tipping in urban neighborhoods, street trading and traffic indiscipline and the sex sessions with insane (mad) women which often result in unwanted pregnancies etc.
In February 2008, I was one of those caught in the cross fire of armed robbers who had held Owerri city hostage for well over one-half hours. On that day, I had gone to the bank to get money and was one of those who missed the rain of bullet by whiskers. I had hastily taken refuse in the toilet of Intercontinental bank, lying flat on the toilet floor to be safe. It was a hell of experience which has stuck in the inner recesses of my memory though I have since devoted it all to God for his grace.
I still thank God, because he alone rescued me, and without him it would have perhaps been something unpalatable. I also know that many Nigerians have resorted to God, committing all to him, particularly their life and security. This is borne out of outright failure of the government to get on top of the everyday risks such as daylight armed robbery, assassination, car snatching and kidnapping of human beings for ransom etc that have come to haunt us.
The recent blood bath in the University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT) by an armed gang of cultists is one of the many risks. The danger is that innocent people easily fall victims of stray bullets which often results in instant deaths or permanent injuries. In the UNIPORT scenario four innocent people died from stray gun shots.
One sad aspect of all these is that the perpetrators of these crimes often escape as the police often lack the wherewithal to track them down. It is on this premise that I suggest that CCTV cameras should be introduced and spaced across many locations in our urban cities, as well as strategic places like airports, motor parks and even markets etc.
This should be leveraged with the setting up of a state-of-the-art operations TV/Screen room. Teams of trained security service personnel should be trained and made to manage and monitor the cameras 24/7 wherever located. These cameras can easily be reviewed in the screen rooms at the touch of a button.
There is no doubt that CCTVs assist the police to quickly intervene in incidents and often provides crucial evidence to support prosecutions in court. As is done elsewhere in the developed world, the camera networks are constantly reviewed and provisions made for additional cameras to be sited at other suitable locations later.
The CCTV is an extra tool in the bag to reduce crime and disorder, especially within known hotspots right across Nigerian towns. I am confident that, by working with the State Security Service and the police as well as other partners, this would be a huge benefit in reducing the fear of crime and help making our cities safer communities in which to live and work.
No doubt, it would be a first of its kind in our cities. To have the cameras monitored 24hours a day, seven days a week is beneficial for three main reasons. It will reassure members of the public; act as a strong deterrent to crime and provide visual evidence that can be used to help secure convictions in court.
However, the strength of the system will lie in partnership work between the police, the SSS, the CCTV operators, and local businesses and residents, many of whom should be linked by radios, to enable them to share information and act quickly when problems do occur.
Beyond crime, fly-tippers could find themselves caught on camera as the state-of-the-art technology will catch offenders red handed. These cameras, both the overt and covert types should be fixed at strategic locations in our cities to crackdown on fly-tipping and ensure our cities remain cleaner and greener places to live and work.
The cameras can be regularly moved to known hotspots if needed and any footage of rubbish being illegally dumped could be used in sanitation court as evidence. I think this is one way for the government to become proactive in investigating fly-tips as these cameras will help track down the people dumping rubbish and putting a blot on the landscape and threatening environmental wellbeing.
Cleaning up fly-tips no doubt costs the government millions of naira. Using these cameras will hopefully lead to more prosecutions which means those responsible are punished and pay the price.
I am totally in support of anything that helps create a better environment for all our people. If using cameras to catch people dumping rubbish in the act leads to a reduction in the number of fly-tips in the city, then surely that can only be a good thing.
CCTVs are in operation in many civilized countries and have no doubt been a great support to the work of those responsible for urban security and sanity. One camera is reported to cost about GBP28, 000. The cost is certainly not beyond the government and is capable of bringing back multiple returns on investment.
Domesticating this technology in Nigeria is desirable and should be given priority now if we are to get on top of growing incidents of urban crimes now ravaging us.

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