City’s ‘eyes’ spot criminal

2015-08-31 09:56
Two alleged thieves caught on Safe City cameras approach a distribution van and tamper with the locks.

Two alleged thieves caught on Safe City cameras approach a distribution van and tamper with the locks. (Supplied)

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AMID the thousands of people who throng the Pietermaritzburg city centre on a daily basis, the eagle-eyed Safe City operators are able to recognise known criminals and track their movements through the streets.

The camera operators pick up an average of about 100 incidents a week, and identify problems facing authorities when they try to apprehend criminals.

Responsible for manning and monitoring 70 cameras in the CBD, Safe City has been keeping watch on the city since 2004, recording serious and violent crimes like murder and rape, and smaller crimes like pick-pocketing and thefts out of motor vehicles.

Safe City officials said that one of the major problems they face in the fight against crime is victims who do not report crimes to the police, and the opening of false cases.

According to the statistics, between August 16 and 23 Safe City camera operators reported 120 incidents, including 27 assaults and 18 contraventions of bylaws.

The operators’ observations led to 15 arrests for drunk driving, possession of suspected stolen property, and thefts out of motor vehicles.

Safe City manager Lucas Holtzhausen said the camera operators, who work in shifts around the clock, are specially trained to detect suspicious behaviour and, over time, are able to remember the faces of known suspects, giving extra attention to those individuals.

“It is difficult to keep a watch on each and every person, but over a period of time, we identify certain individuals and monitor them from the moment they arrive in the area,” he said.

Earlier this month, The Witness reported on a spate of thefts out of motor vehicles in the CBD, with about 60 cases being reported since last month.

Holtzhausen said they had been inundated with calls from victims, asking if the cameras had picked up these incidents. He warned that motorists should be extra vigilant in ensuring their doors were locked before walking away from their vehicles.

Safe City response teams, working with the police, had arrested 11 suspects for thefts out of motor vehicles since the beginning of the year.

In a recent incident, operators noticed two suspicious men approaching a parked distribution van near Church Street.

Despite crowds of people strolling past, the men could be seen pulling at the van’s windows and doors until they eventually gained entry, escaping with a packet containing electronic items.

Camera operators tracked the men, who believed their crime had gone unnoticed, for almost half an hour until Safe City response teams and police arrested them.

“We traced the victim after he got back into his car and had started driving, and notified him that his belongings had been stolen. The man asked if his items could be returned so he could resume his duties,” Holtzhausen said. He said they had to convince him to open a case.

According to Holtzhausen, it is important for victims to report crimes instantly.

“People may not think that reporting a crime is worth it, but this impacts on our operations greatly. Each day we evaluate police reports and use this to implement intelligence-driven surveillance techniques,” he said.

Because most street crimes are opportunistic and can happen anytime and anywhere, Safe City manager Lucas Holtzhausen said the public should adhere to the following safety precautions:

• Conceal valuables.

• Keep vehicle windows closed and doors locked.

• Always be on the alert as criminals use the element of surprise to their advantage. The moment they realise that you have observed them, they usually abandon their plans.

• Do not walk or drive while talking on your cellphone

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  crime

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