Lawmakers, 911 argue CCTV effectiveness

To the 911 Emergency Communications Centre, an island-wide system of nearly 300 closed circuit monitoring cameras are an invaluable public safety resource.

Government-CCTV-1-(Read-Only)To some local lawmakers, the cameras haven’t delivered on their promise, particularly given the millions the country paid to acquire them.

“It just seems to be not helping the police, which [the system] was set up for,” Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush said, referencing one incident in West Bay where he said a CCTV camera had failed to catch an act of murder being committed. “It was a system that the country was told would work.”

Nine-one-one center Director Julian Lewis said he was not sure what specific incident Mr. Bush was speaking about, but he said – by the numbers – CCTV cameras were clearly assisting local police.

Mr. Lewis said since January 2015, 413 requests for CCTV camera footage had been received by the 911 center from the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service regarding various investigations. A total of 160 cases where footage was provided resulted in arrests, another 119 requests involve currently active investigations.

A total of nine criminal investigations in which footage was requested since last year have ended in successful prosecutions, Mr. Lewis said.

“[The police] have made comments to us saying that [CCTV] works well,” Mr. Lewis said. There are limitations to the cameras of which the public should be aware, the 911 director said. For instance, some of the cameras affixed to “pods” on local street lights or traffic signals are “pan-tilt-zoom” cameras, which means they can be adjusted by their monitors at the 911 center or local police station to view a different area. Others are fixed cameras, which cannot be moved, he said.

There are infrared viewing capabilities on some of the cameras, but that visibility only extends to a certain point, Mr. Lewis said. Beyond that point, if the lighting in an area is poor, the cameras may not be able to pick up a clear image, he said.

“We are depending on these cameras to detect crime,” Mr. Bush said. “Lighting seems to be a problem.”

Mr. Lewis said the current five-year contract for maintenance of the CCTV camera system will expire within the next year and that bids for the new contract would go out later this year.

Ministry of Home Affairs Chief Officer Eric Bush said the government had budgeted no money for the replacement of the CCTV camera system itself, which the government owns. Failing to rebid the contract would essentially mean shutting the entire system down due to a lack of maintenance, Eric Bush said.

“We have established that [the cameras] aren’t supplying the quality that we need,” Finance Minister Marco Archer said.

“I think the [911 center] director has a different opinion,” chief officer Bush said. East End MLA Arden McLean also said during Thursday’s Finance Committee hearing in Legislative Assembly that only four staffers at 911 were assigned at different times to monitor the live camera images from the CCTV pan-tilt-zoom and fixed cameras.

Eric Bush said there was no way enough staff could be hired at 911 to monitor 200-plus cameras on a 24-7 basis. Rather, he said, the cameras were monitored “passively” – in other words, if an incident was reported, the 911 center employees would activate any available cameras in the area to assist police officers. “That is reactive policing, in my view,” Mr. McLean said.

The East End MLA asked whether electronic ankle monitors used by the local courts and police to restrict offenders to a certain area if they are released on bail operate on the same “passive” basis.

Eric Bush said an electronic screen at the 911 center gives an alert any time an electronic monitor begins signaling that a violation has occurred and a monitored offender has wandered outside their set area. Those incidents would be reported to police who would check by the location, he said.

The local court system has noted in recent weeks that all available electronic monitoring devices were in use. Mr. Bush said bids for an additional 10 devices were due to go out in the near future.