Surburbs deploy eyes in the sky

2014-01-24 00:00

GIANT “lollipop” closed-circuit cameras have changed the face of greater Durban’s richest suburbs within a single year, as residents have seemingly gladly traded privacy for high-tech security.

From Hillcrest to Umhlanga, more than 300 private security cameras have been erected within 150 of these units — each featuring bright orange, blue or green “domes” on top of three-metre poles — since the first “lollipop” appeared in Everton last January.

And when six armed men attacked a family in Hillcrest Park two weeks ago, their escape in an Audi Q7 was not only tracked via six separate suburban cameras by security controllers, but the footage could also be streamed to the smartphones of a police captain, and a local neighbourhood watch chairperson.

Meanwhile, thermal night-vision cameras are watching for crooks in Winston Park and Inanda, and cameras are triggered along Transnet’s upper Highway railway reserve whenever someone dares to walk across the tracks and into the suburb.

Yesterday, five controllers in the Enforce security control room in Durban were “patrolling” the streets of half a dozen suburbs without leaving their seats — one woman flicking from one camera to the next, and one lollipop unit to the next, along Catterick Road in Morningside.

A moment later, an alarm beeped and a red light flashed on her computer screen, and the woman called out “Panic alarm! — Valerie Road, Gillitts!” Triggered by the resident’s press of the button, a camera on Valerie Road came to life and a second computer screen immediately flashed up live images of the street — but the red and white cars that passed by were travelling “too slow” to be likely suspects, and the panic activation turned out to be a false alarm.

The Witness understands that number plate recognition software is available to at least one firm and could soon be added to the system — while another security firm predicts that CCTV cameras will be trained inside people’s houses within five years.

Shaun Lyle, chairperson of the Hillcrest Park Neighbourhood Watch, said, “Guard huts were a non-starter for our area, and the technology had reached the point where it can make a real difference. Violent crime went so crazy in our area that privacy was the last thing people were worried about.”

Corné Broodryk, chairperson of the Kloof Community Policing Forum, said that — while not yet effective in capturing fleeing crooks — the cameras had proven crucial in correctly identifying the colour and make of getaway vehicles, and as a deterrent to opportunists.

Jayson Weideman, sales manager for Enforce, could not point to an arrest made directly from live surveillance, but said 11 arrests in Hillcrest last year, for instance, had been aided by intelligence from the recordings.

There are a nest of camera pylons in Umhlanga — where residents have insisted on an environmentally friendly green colour — and small nodes in Morningside and the Berea.

But security companies revealed that the Upper Highway was now one of the most heavily watched areas in South Africa.

A map on the wall at Enforce revealed 42 camera pylons in the Upper Highway area, in a vast horseshoe stretching from Waterfall to Gillitts via Hillcrest — but Blue Security has its own blue-domed cameras on the same route.

Any criminal travelling Bridle or Inanda roads will now feature in a small recorded movie of surveillance.

But not everyone sees their value.

Ashley Residents Neighbourhood Watch chairperson Justin Bosse, said that — “with technology where it is” — the cameras were unaffordable, and the benefits limited.

“Sure they’d be nice to have, but they don’t yet feature number plate recognition, and the fees from our perspective are astronomical.”

Gary Tintinger, marketing manager for Blue Security, said the sudden roll-out had followed a leap in technology — “where, a few years ago, we battled to find sufficient broadband to stream the images”.

Tintinger said he believed surveillance would dramatically improve armed response effectiveness, by cutting false alarm rates across the industry from 95% to close to 50%.

He suggested that residents could soon elect to have cameras pointed at their own homes — and that software would allow the most private spaces, such as bedroom windows, to be permanently blocked from the controller’s view.

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