Gov’t is watching the watchers
Ministry of Home Affairs Chief Officer Eric Bush confirmed this week that a few new CCTV cameras have been installed inside the 911 Emergency Centre office building in George Town. Mr. Bush said the cameras are actually nothing new, centre employees have been aware that the devices are being used in the office for quite some time; they’ve just added “two or three” new cameras.
“[The 911 centre] is a higher security area than other office buildings,” Mr. Bush said. “We do have security cameras displayed prominently throughout the office space.”
Centre director Brent Finster elaborated: “The ability to see who was on duty and how the person carried out their duties can provide important evidence as to the conduct of the officers. These cameras can also be used for the protection of employees.
The internal cameras now deployed are zoomed out to a 10 to 20 foot distance. Therefore, they are not intrusive in terms of details.”
The centre does a lot more than just field phone calls and then forward information on the emergency situation to police, fire and ambulance services. More than 200 public surveillance cameras watching the streets throughout Grand Cayman are filtered back to the centre and monitored on a passive or “as needed” basis. In addition, the 911 officers keep watch on the police and prisons system electronic ankle monitors for criminal suspects.
Some reports were received by the Caymanian Compass earlier in the week that the new camera installation within the 911 centre was brought on by a harassment allegation against a staff member. However, Mr. Bush denied that the allegation led to the installation of new cameras.
Mr. Finster said that two complaints of harassment had been made in the centre within the past five years and that the installation of those devices was done for other reasons.
“I wouldn’t want to link the security cameras with [those allegations],” he said. “The 911 centre is a restricted area where only authorised individuals are allowed to go.”
The 911 centre is essentially ground zero for public surveillance in the Cayman Islands.
The official hand over of the first 224 CCTV public surveillance cameras to government was completed in late 2012. Those cameras have been transmitting images back to the 911 Emergency Communications Centre in George Town. The images are “passively monitored” by centre personnel, meaning when police, fire or ambulance services receive a call the cameras can be zeroed in on the area to assist first responders.
When the system is fully installed, officers at the police stations in George Town, West Bay and Bodden Town 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.
The government still hopes the expansion of the CCTV system can be accomplished, perhaps in the upcoming 2013/14 budget.
Centre director Brent Finster has said the budget for the 2012/13 year was to be $800,000. 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 be about $300,000.