Government will significantly step up its investment in CCTV cameras around the island amid concerns that the quality of the images is not high enough at night.
Premier Alden McLaughlin said he understood the reluctance of witnesses to talk to police following gang shootings and suggested the solution was to double down on Cayman’s investment in CCTV.
He said, “We are going to have to invest more in developing independent means of obtaining evidence for convictions. That means greater investment in CCTV, higher quality cameras and more of them.
“I don’t see these issues going away. It is going to be more and more difficult to find people willing to give evidence. The intimidation factor is working, and I understand why people are reluctant [to give evidence].”
Police Commissioner David Baines, speaking at a West Bay police community meeting last week, dismissed suggestions from members of the public that the cameras were not working. He said they were running 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and usable footage had been obtained for all three recent shootings in West Bay.
Mr. McLaughlin confirmed he had seen footage from the three crimes. While the shootings themselves weren’t necessarily caught on camera, he said, the information from the cameras provided investigators with important information and supporting evidence.
He said a general issue with the cameras is the quality of footage at night.
“One of the big problems that we find is the ability to identify persons, cars and license numbers at night,” the premier said. “In the day it is clear as crystal, but without the necessary background lighting and the quality of cameras at night, the evidence we do get, while it helps, is really not useful for the purposes of use in court.”
He had no word on the exact costs, but said his government was looking at the numbers ahead of the next budget with a view to significantly enhancing the current network of 224 HD cameras.
The network was installed in 2012 by the Security Centre following a request for proposals through the Central Tenders Committee. Stuart Bostock, CEO of the Security Centre, which has deployed national CCTV surveillance programs in Antigua, the Bahamas and the Cayman Islands, said he could not speak specifically about Cayman’s camera network because of a non-disclosure agreement.
Speaking generally, he said there are potential upgrades available to the high-definition cameras used on most modern CCTV networks, but he said there are also simpler, cost-effective fixes, such as improving lighting levels around cameras.
He said CCTV networks provide an important crime-fighting tool – even if they do not capture an incident directly on camera.
“It is almost impossible to cover every square foot of a country with a national CCTV surveillance system, but if you have a good network of cameras, and the right design, you can potentially track the movements of a person or vehicle to and from specific areas, so you can obtain important evidence, even if the incident itself is not captured on camera,” Mr. Bostock said.
Shaun Devine, sales department manager for the Security Centre, said new technology could increase the reach of CCTV cameras. He said “4k” resolution cameras are able to obtain crystal clear images from several hundred yards away.
However, increasing the resolution does not get around the issue of lighting. Infrared illuminators can be fixed to cameras, though these illuminate a limited distance, and the technology sacrifices color for clarity.
Mr. McLaughlin, speaking following last week’s meeting in West Bay, said money would be found in the budget for upgrades, though he was not able to say at that time how much money would be available and exactly how it would be spent.
“It’s a question of priorities,” he said. “Government has so much money – how do we allocate those funds?
“This is an issue identified to us by the police, and it’s one we are seeking to address. I’m looking at what the costings are to see what we can do.”
He said more comprehensive CCTV footage would reduce the need for people to go into witness protection or risk their lives by giving evidence against gang killers.
“You can rely less on the need for eye witnesses. If there is an answer, that is it,” he said.