Second stage of project needs funding
A total of 215 closed circuit television cameras are up and operating around Grand Cayman, according to officials with the government’s Portfolio of Internal and External Affairs and the Cayman Islands 911 Emergency Centre.
Within the next month or so, the remaining nine cameras in ‘phase 1’ of the CCTV project will be installed and consultants will examine each camera ‘pod’ or cluster location separately to ensure the devices are working properly. After that, the full system will officially be “turned over” to the government.
However, the government has not waited for the hand over to occur. The various cameras installed on the system are already in use and have been for some time.
“We’ve received 55 requests from the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service to obtain video from the cameras,” said Brent Finster, 911 centre manager. “Fifty-two of those requests have been acted upon, meaning we’ve provided evidence to the police or have been unable to find what they were looking for.”
Signs informing the public the cameras are in use have been placed at 75 per cent of the active camera locations. The remainder should be going up in the coming weeks said Eric Bush, chief officer of the Portfolio of Internal and External Affairs.
“This is entirely overt surveillance and that’s what it was always intended to be,” Mr. Bush said. “There are no dummy cameras in the system.”
Not all of the 215 cameras have been working all of the time, Mr. Bush admits. Some were placed up and then taken down again while installation crews from the Security Centre made adjustments; others have been accidentally taken out.
“We had one camera where the [power] line was damaged by a crane,” Mr. Finster said. “So it went down and we had to repair it. Regular maintenance will be required with this system; we even have the contractor going out and cleaning the camera [lens] covers.”
During the next few weeks, both police officers and emergency communicators will receive training in the proper use of the CCTV cameras. The usage of those devices is governed by no law in the Cayman Islands. Rather, there is a CCTV Code of Conduct the government approved late last year to guide public officers in the use of the cameras and the pictures and video they capture. Officials said they will eventually approve a Public Surveillance Law to govern the cameras.
When the system is fully installed, officers at the George Town, West Bay and Bodden Town police stations will be able to review CCTV footage at those stations, but they won’t be able to manipulate the cameras or change the viewing angles. That can only be done within the 911 centre. Police must make specific requests to obtain copies of video taken from the cameras or still photos captured by automatic number plate recognition cameras.
Mr. Bush said most of the argument in favour of installing a public surveillance system has been toward reduction of crime in Cayman. However, he said it’s important to note there are other, more mundane daily uses for the cameras.
One such example occurred around noon Thursday, when a tractor-trailer hauling aggregate tipped over in the middle of the Hurley’s roundabout in George Town, spilling its contents all over the side of the road and in a nearby bank parking lot.
Once the accident was reported to 911, operators in the emergency services centre immediately trained some of the cameras located at the roundabout to the scene. The pictures they received helped dispatchers tell police exactly what they were dealing with before any officer’s car arrived on the scene.
“From the first responder perspective, it’s invaluable,” Mr. Bush said of CCTV. “We’re no longer playing the Chinese [whisper] game with callers at the scene.”
Also, the cameras recorded practically every conceivable angle of Thursday’s accident. Police looking at the recording will be able to see exactly who was at fault for the wreck, Mr. Bush said.
“In fact, the investigating officer is here right now [at the 911 centre] reviewing the tape of that crash,” Mr. Bush said during the interview.
With the official hand over of the first 224 cameras set to occur in a few weeks, the government is looking toward the expansion of the CCTV system. This will involve placing more cameras around Grand Cayman and installing some surveillance cameras in Cayman Brac.
Precisely what areas the second phase of CCTV will cover and how many cameras will be involved isn’t known yet; partly because bids for the system haven’t gone out yet and partly because government doesn’t know how much money will be available.
Mr. Finster said the budget for the 2012/13 year currently has $800,000 set aside for CCTV camera system expansion, but he admits that won’t get government the full build out it is looking for. Some $2 million was spent on the installation of the first stage of the project. Yearly maintenance and ancillary costs for CCTV are expected to total around $300,000.
“It was agreed earlier that cameras in certain areas of George Town and West Bay Road would be kept sparse because the private sector would be expected to help [in those areas],” Mr. Finster said.
Government officials said they would request additional funding from the private sector for CCTV some time ago. Exactly how much cash companies would be asked to chip in wasn’t stated at the time, but estimates have ranged from between $800,000 to $2 million.