Surveillance cameras help police reduce crime in Guatemala City

Violence rates in sectors under surveillance have dropped by up to 40 percent since law enforcement authorities installed the video cameras at a cost of $150 million (USD).
Jorge Mario Rodríguez Baeza | 20 October 2014

Technological innovation: Law enforcement authorities installed 1,900 surveillance cameras in Guatemala City in June. Police agents monitor images produced by the cameras for criminal activity and report offenses to police, who can respond quickly. The cameras have helped reduce violence in the city. [Photo: Jorge Rodríguez]

Guatemalan police officials believed the 1,900 surveillance cameras authorities installed in June in different parts of Guatemala City would help them prevent crime and fight violence.

They were right.

Violence rates in sectors under surveillance have dropped by up to 40 percent since law enforcement authorities installed the video cameras at a cost of $150 million (USD).

Police agents monitor the videos from their stations and alert officers on patrol to possible criminal activity in real time. The cameras have helped them respond to crimes quickly enough to capture suspects before they could escape. “Police forces have more ‘eyes’ for surveillance, which prevents criminals from committing crimes,” said Carlos Argueta, Deputy Minister of Technology of the Ministry of the Interior (Mingob). “It’s such a novelty that agents patrolling the streets have support from the center. This has allowed them to make some captures red-handed.” The cameras have different capabilities. The majority of them – about 80 percent – are stationary and aimed at a fixed location. Police can move about 20 percent of them to the right and left and up and down. And 10 percent of them have facial recognition capability – meaning that they can identify criminals by their faces through their connection to a database maintained by the National Register of Persons (Renap). Police can also compare footage of license plates to the Tax Administration Authority (SAT)’s database to see if vehicles under surveillance have been reported stolen or are subject to seizure.

Presently, the cameras have been installed in various strategic points throughout the city, with a special emphasis on Zone 18, which had a rate of 72 homicides per 100,000 residents in early 2012. By comparison, the entire country has a homicide rate of nearly 40 per 100,000 residents, according to a report presented in April by the United Nations.

Police authorities plan on installing an additional 2,100 surveillance cameras throughout Guatemala City by the end of 2014. Many of the cameras will be placed in neighborhoods at-risk for violent crime, such as Mixco and Amatitlán in the Central District, as well as Escuintla and Sacatepéquez.

Surveillance cameras help police develop anti-crime strategies: Analyst

The surveillance cameras are not only helping police respond quickly to criminal activity, they are helping law enforcement authorities gather data that will allow them to develop long-term approaches to fighting crime.

Police surveillance: Police agents monitor images produced by some of the 1,900 surveillance cameras that were installed in Guatemala City in June. Police authorities plan to install by the end of the year, another 2,100 cameras will be installed in Guatemala City. [Photo: Jorge Rodríguez]

“Video surveillance can be a useful tool for creating intelligence strategies,” said Francisco Guezada, a security analyst at the National Economic Research Center (CIEN). “According to the information collected from surveillance, [security agents] should be able to detect the patterns, routes, and modus operandi of criminals.”

Training courses in forensic analysis will be incorporated into the National Civil Police (PNC) Training Academy. The PNC is mandated with gathering intelligence to fight criminal organizations and fight crime.

“We currently have three forensic analysis technicians and they will be responsible for training 30 more,” Argueta said. “This way we will improve our criminal investigation processes.”

Using technology to fight crime

Guatemala has a successful history of using technology to fight crime and improve public safety.

For example, in 2011, the Safe Cities Association launched the website alertos.org , which integrates surveillance services in high-crime areas and displays detailed information in real time. The creation of this platform seeks to achieve inter-institutional cooperation and increased strategic intelligence in the use and exchange of data. It receives feeds from various information sources, including civil complaints, and creates a statistical database of criminal incidents. In September, the website recorded 46 armed attacks and 84 homicides throughout the country.

“Having advanced search systems facilitates criminal and judicial investigations. Our model, called SafeCity, focuses on achieving a smarter public safety infrastructure through tight integration over the Internet,” said Pedro Cruz, project coordinator for alertos.org .

The initiative stays in constant contact with security authorities to share information such as data on suspicious license plates, criminal profiles, and patterns of behavior in certain areas.

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