Editorial | Surveillance and crime
Anyone who doubted the ability of closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras to help solve crime may now be convinced of its usefulness after recent happenings at the 60-bed Andrews Memorial Hospital in Kingston.
The barefaced daylight theft of equipment from a room at the Seventh-day Adventist-owned hospital on Sunday left administrators baffled. The equipment, which is said to be critical to the operations of the hospital's CT-scan system, is estimated to cost $3 million.
Within hours of the hospital posting its surveillance footage on television news and offering a reward of $100,000, a 26-year-old suspect was in police custody.
As a deterrent of crime, security cameras have become the technology on which homeowners and business persons have been relying to monitor activities at their premises and help protect their properties.
CCTV has been in use for decades, and even though it comes at a considerable cost, more and more Jamaicans are investing in these systems. Slow police response and poor investigating techniques have driven many persons to take personal responsibility for their security, including hiring the services of private security firms. Surveillance systems are to the 21st century what burglar bars were to the 1970s and electronic gates to the 1990s.
While they will not stop crime from occurring, the range and capabilities of surveillance systems will certainly give potential robbers reason to pause before they think of invading a home or business or assaulting someone. One of the greatest deterrents to criminals is the risk of being caught, and if their images are captured in the commission of a crime, it becomes more difficult for them to escape arrest.
MORE SURVEILLANCE SYSTEMS NEEDED
It seems that Jamaica, with its untamable crime rate that increasingly undermines the nation's security, more of these surveillance systems are desirable in public spaces, including schools, in order to increase the safety of its citizens.
CCTV is common in most publicly accessible institutions in Europe, including restaurants, airports, banks, shopping centres and transportation hubs. In the United Kingdom, for example, there is estimated to be one camera for every 32 citizens. This indicates the level of surveillance diffusion necessary to keep people safe as they go about their daily routines. The results for the United Kingdom have been positive, with a 51 per cent decrease in crimes in parking lots and 23 per cent reduction of crimes recorded on mass-transit facilities.
With the expansion of public surveillance around the world, legal and constitutional issues have arisen. But most of all there are mounting privacy concerns.
One of the questions is: Who has access to the data captured by the cameras and for how long? People need to feel assured that the data will not be used in any negative way, including to impugn their character.
A year ago, it was announced that more cameras are to be installed in Montego Bay and Mandeville. Plans were said to be in train to have systems erected in other areas such as Christiana and Negril. Ocho Rios is said to have a very elaborate system.
While we commend the Government and its private-sector partners for this programme, we feel that, like in every other endeavour, accountability is extremely important. Hence the authorities should report periodically the effect of these surveillance systems on public safety and state whether they are achieving their objectives.