by Gillian Lim
IF THERE’S one takeaway from The Straits Times’ report on closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras today (March 9), it’s this: There’s a lot of them around, and more are on the way. There are cameras installed by the Singapore Police Force, those in the streets and in HDB estates; more by the National Environment Agency (NEA) – almost 3,000 in HDB blocks; the traffic cameras put up by the Land Transport Authority (LTA); and those installed in lifts by town councils.
The report with its headline “Network of CCTV cameras proving effective” would have readers believe that there are plenty of advantages to more surveillance – it has helped to “deter loan sharks, nab litterbugs and stop illegal parking”; in fact, they are so helpful that even residents are asking for more cameras in their own HDB blocks! (Not a single soul interviewed for the ST report had anything bad to say about it.)
While there’s little doubt CCTV cameras can and have helped to deter such illegal activity, what we want to know is – by how much? How “effective” have they been?
You won’t get the full picture from reading the story. Here’s why:
Deterring loan sharks
According to ST, police figures released last month showed that blocks with CCTV cameras saw fewer unlicensed moneylender harassment cases involving property damage. “The number of such cases reported at 2,152 blocks with police cameras plummeted from 1,617 in 2013 – before those blocks had cameras – to just 426 last year,” said the news report.
Sounds impressive. But why 2,152 blocks? There are currently police cameras in 8,600 HDB blocks – where’s the overall data? We had to dig into the Annual Crime Brief 2015 last month to figure this out. According to the brief: “The 2,152 HDB blocks across Singapore had high UML (unlicensed moneylender) harassment cases and were chosen as a control group to measure the effectiveness of PolCams.”
Great – but what is “high”?
Members of Parliament (MPs) gave their thumbs up too for more surveillance – but thumbs down for giving only anecdotal evidence: Ang Mo Kio GRC MP Gan Thiam Poh said that “there are improvements”, especially in the cases of loan-shark harassment “that used to be quite common”. Potong Pasir MP Sitoh Yih Pin said that he hasn’t “got any [loan-shark harassment cases] for quite a while”.
An East Coast-Fengshan Town Council spokesman said that CCTVs installed by town councils “does help against anti-social behaviour such as littering, urination and vandalism”. But to what extent?
Numbers provided by the news report said that NEA has around 3,000 cameras installed in HDB estates to catch high-rise litterbugs, and litterbugs in about a third of the cases caught on camera are successfully identified, said Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor in Parliament earlier this month.
What we know: The number of littering tickets issued hit a six-year high last year, with over 26,000 tickets issued. What we don’t know: How many of these litterbugs littered in HDB, how many of these HDB litterbugs were caught on camera, and how many of those caught on camera were successfully identified.
Stopping illegal parking
More than 300 parking enforcement cameras have been put up by the LTA, and how effective has it proved to be? It has helped “to cut cases of illegal parking by as much as 90 per cent”, the LTA told ST last September.
Great – but what is 90 per cent? Ninety per cent of how many? And since when? Over what period of time? On these questions, ST’s report was silent.
So, we took a quick dive into the news archives: Turns out, the 90 per cent figure refers to only the fall in the number of illegal parking cases in locations where CCTV cameras were installed – from 2014 to last year. The first parking enforcement CCTV cameras were installed in 2014.
Over this period of time, the daily average number of summonses in these locations dropped from 30 to three – hence the 90 per cent fall. And how many locations are there? For that answer, we found this LTA news release, which put the number at 70 last year. By next year, expect cameras in about 130 locations.
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