Are CCTV cameras really protecting us from criminals?By Alex Y. Vergara
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Are CCTVS giving us a false sense of security? I ask this in light of a recent incident I witnessed involving my friend Jude Mancuyas while we were dining in Quezon City’s restaurant row.
Even before dessert, Jude had lost his Martin Margiela shoulder bag. Apart from his cell phone and money, the bag contained his credit card, Philhealth card and house keys.
After reviewing the building’s CCTV footage, we were able to establish that three thieves had run away with Jude’s bag, which also had his late mother’s billfold. Now, that’s priceless.
Now that it has become mandatory for business establishments to install CCTVs as deterrent to crime, you wonder, do these devices really serve their purpose? Or do they simply add to an overload of after-the-fact information to the list of unsolved crimes in Metro Manila?
Unlike the rest of the weekend crowd, Jude and I weren’t out on a lark. It was more of an exposure trip, as we sampled one of the newest places in the area. I was there to write about it, while Jude, a restaurateur himself, was there to soak up the scene.
Since the small air-conditioned area was getting crowded, Jude and I decided to dine al fresco while interviewing the restaurant owner and its young chef. We settled at a table by the main entrance, where the menu was also set on an easel.
In short, our spot was a gathering point for diners. The building had a security guard, but the restaurant didn’t.
An hour into our interview, the place was already packed with diners.
When I returned to our table from the restroom, Jude and the owner were already raising a commotion with the restaurant staff. Jude had already discovered that his bag, which he placed on an empty chair beside him, was missing.
Jude, who sat near the restaurant door, didn’t anyone bold or suspicious enough who came near his bag.
In the admin office we watched a pre-reviewed CCTV footage of what transpired earlier that night. Like one huge puzzle, the flat-screen TV was divided into numerous black-and-white scenes simultaneously captured by several cameras. The person who reviewed the footage brought our attention to three young men who looked like diners, but were apparently already casing the joint.
They even went to another restaurant on the second floor. Since they probably didn’t see any prey there, they went down and lingered in the courtyard before heading our way.
The decently dressed thieves, one of whom carried a backpack, didn’t need to resort to distraction. All they had to do was blend in, linger, leaf through the menu and wait for the right time.
One of them, perhaps trying to test how occupied we were, even dropped the menu before quickly picking it up. The menu landed under the table almost right in front of him, Jude recalled.
In less than 10 minutes, their efforts paid off. Just when everyone’s attention was somewhere else, the man with the backpack casually grabbed Jude’s bag before turning his back, slipping the item into his backpack and heading for the street.
His two companions quickly followed. The three wove through traffic before vanishing into the night.
Scrimping on monitoring?
The coverage, which showed a dozen or so points within and even beyond the building, was impressive, but with one person manning it, I wondered how he could possibly keep tabs of everything and everyone being captured on screen.
Plus, black-and-white images of people weren’t conclusive enough. How could you identify the thieves in a police lineup, say, if you couldn’t even match their faces with those hazily captured on CCTV?
Since there were so many cameras and not enough people to monitor them, the thieves weren’t caught.
It’s obvious that since these devices are expensive, business establishments are scrimping by hiring a token person or two to monitor live feeds.
So, are CCTVs useless? Not really. But they don’t frighten away criminals.