Editorial | Welcome to CCTV surveillance
After an overlong gestation, across administrations, Jamaica is having a serious go at using something akin to a nationally integrated camera surveillance system in its crime-fighting arsenal. Robert Montague, the national security minister, deserves credit for finally getting the project off the ground.
While we suggest that Mr Montague temper his confidence at the "game-changing" nature of this initiative, we, nonetheless, are enthusiastic about the project and believe in its potential contribution to the detection and prevention of crime. Indeed, such systems, when properly employed in other countries, have helped law enforcement to respond to, and de-escalate, emerging problems or identify perpetrators of crime. They can also be a deterrent to crime. People are less likely to commit offences in public spaces if there is a reasonable likelihood that they will be identified and brought to justice.
But there are a number of factors, as were alluded to by Mr Montague at Wednesday's launch of the system, that are still to be smoothed out to ensure the efficacy of a CCTV surveillance system as part of Jamaica's anti-crime arrangements, not least of which are the number of cameras that are deployed. Reach is important.
It has not been disclosed how many cameras the State has actually deployed under the system. What is certain is that they are not enough. For, as Mr Montague noted, 3,000 cameras for the Greater Kingston region alone require an investment of US$45 million, or nearly J$5.8 billion. Thus far, the Government has spent J$181 million on cameras, not including, it appears, those that were previously installed. That's a start.
Significantly, though, the system was designed to integrate private-owned security cameras, whether at business or residences. But participation, which Mr Montague has encouraged owners to do, is voluntary. Hopefully, many people will participate.
However, there may be ways, apart from legally demanding it - an idea mooted in some quarters - to encourage a wider engagement. As a legal requirement, the Government would mandate, perhaps, that businesses of certain sizes in critical areas, which invite the public into their establishments, must employ security cameras that are integrated into the national system as part of their operating licences.
However, such a scheme, without more, would likely meet resistance. In the event, if cameras were made mandatory - or even if voluntary - companies might be allowed tax write-off, whether on net income, annual licence fees or statutory payments, against their installation and maintenance. The arrangement would, in a way, not be dissimilar to the rebates allowed to firms for paying certain statutory, employment-related taxes on time. A certificate of participation, which is to say that cameras remained online for a minimum period, could be issued by the monitors, including the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF), which provides the lead in technical support. In other words, this would be part of a broad national-security strategy.
The JDF's involvement is important not only from the technical standpoint, but for the institutional trust enjoyed by the army. Despite the robust back-room security mechanisms of which Mr Montague boasted, it is a fact that Jamaicans do not generally trust the policy and are likely to be sceptical of these assurances and that information gathered via private systems would not be compromised. The back-room oversight by the JDF should help these concerns.