President Museveni, avoid Knee Jerk reactions on Installing Security Cameras

The death of Afande Felix Kaweesi (RIP) took us all by surprise and matters were worsened by the brutal and professionally executed hit. In the aftermath of this occurrence, President Yoweri Museveni was quoted by various media houses as having stated that installation of cameras along public roads should be done as soon as possible.

In the run up to the 20th Common Wealth Head of Governments’ Meeting (CHOGM) held in Kampala, Uganda in 2007, installation of security cameras was on the To Do list. One of the reasons given was that they would continue providing surveillance long after the event. Apart from seeing remnants of poles and housing units for cameras, that project died as fast as it was birthed. Money was spent procuring these cameras, installation was probably done but that is as far as things went.

Mr President, before you embark on another spending spree to procure new cameras, I have a humble appeal. Please do not follow the knee jerk reaction on this matter. Many of your people may be looking at this need merely as a procurement opportunity without internalising its overarching importance towards facilitating crime management in the city of Kampala.

As steps are taken towards implementing your directive, it is crucial that certain things are kept in mind. These include;

  • Needs Assessment and Budgeting – Apart from equipment costs, time and labour required can also be intensive. Product quality is also key as opting for low cost products without considering their abilities could lead to challenges like low quality images hence creating challenges during evidence collection, poor visibility at night or during the rain among others.

  • Planning for Infrastructure, Maintenance and other recurrent costs – In Uganda, we have a tendency to believe that initial costs are all that matters when acquiring technology. Plan ahead for costs of maintaining infrastructure eg Wireless connections to the data centre may require servicing, obstructions could occur near the cameras and have to be removed, cameras may have to be replaced and even outright vandalism of some cameras could occur. In cases of non networked cameras, there might be a need for a team of people to physically collect data from them periodically among other activities. This is where probably the CHOGM camera project went wrong.

  • Technology Integration – Our security forces already have different technologies in use. The Police for example has license plate recognition software which is used a lot to get ticket defaulters. The camera system installed should be able to integrate this and other technologies including facial recognition, gunshot detection, incident mapping, video analytic among others. That way, we shall avoid having silos of technologies that are not interoperable, a waste of tax payers money.

  • Policy Development – There needs to be policies in place to manage this surveillance. It is crucial to achieve a balance between protecting citizens’ privacy rights and enabling law enforcement officers utilise the technology in an effective manner.

  • Active Monitoring Vs Passive Monitoring – Active monitoring is real time monitoring where locations are observed continuously while passive is the opposite. The former approach is a lot more resource intensive but allows the security agencies achieve much more especially when it comes to preventing crime. However, does Uganda’s force have the capacity to actively monitor a widespread camera system covering the entire Kampala city? Maybe a mix of Active and Passive would work best. Certain areas considered hot spots could be monitored actively while for those that are less dangerous, a passive approach can be undertaken. This decision will also inform on the type of technology to be deployed where.

  • Integrating Camera systems with current practices – There are procedures and practices that the security systems are utilising to monitor and manage crime. These do not have to work in isolation with the Camera systems. Could there be a need to mount cameras on all Police Patrol cars for example? In danger spots, can patrol teams be deployed in areas where the camera coverage is poor or where they expect criminals to seek refuge from the cameras?

  • Cameras are not a replacement to normal security duties – It is important to ensure that there is no sloppiness that develops on the part of the security officials as a result of camera installations. The old school physical engagements of investigating, tracking and preventing crime still apply. These cameras should be viewed as the icing on the cake. Footage can be used to corroborate information, identify culprits and witnesses to be interviewed among others.

Any eventual decision on the kind of Cameras to use should not restrict itself to a particular model of cameras but instead opt for a variety of camera models with different abilities. There will however be a need to get assurances from the vendors about their interoperability with other vendors’ equipment.

Technologies that need to be integrated in the procured system should include among others;

Gunshot Detection Systems: They work by utilising a system of sound sensors installed all over the target area. By scanning sounds in the area, these sensors are able to decode whether it is from a gun or not and through a triangulation approach offer an approximate location where the shot was fired from. Integrate this with crime mapping software and you will easily know theneighborhood in question.

License Plate Recognition: This scans number plates of cars and can verify with any database to determine whether the car in question has uncleared tickets, has been reported stolen or any other issue as brought to the attention of the authorities.

Facial Recognition: Advances in technology now allow computer software to be able to match faces when compared with database entries. By integrating this software with the cameras, one should be able to quickly track offenders especially the repeat offenders.

There is a lot more to share on this but it is my hope that this time round, the Government of Uganda manages this project the right way in order to achieve its intended goals without financially haemorrhaging the public coffers.

For God and My Country !!!!

James Wire is a Small Business and Technology Consultant based in Kampala, Uganda

Follow @wirejames on Twitter

Other Articles of interest:

Additional material from Using Public Surveillance Systems for Crime Control and Prevention by Nancy G LaVigne, Samantha S Lowry and others.

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4 responses to “President Museveni, avoid Knee Jerk reactions on Installing Security Cameras

  1. Well let’s just say that your sources are not as reliable as you think!

  2. Mr. Wire, how did you arrive at the conclusion that the existing cameras on the streets are not doing their job and that the project died?

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