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Surveillance software from Synectics keeps a tab on crimes in Pietermaritzburg

CCTV software from Synectics provides detailed security information for Pietermaritzburg officials
The surveillance system involved the deployment of the latest evolution of Synectics' SynergyPro control software
Situated close to South Africa's east coast, the city of Pietermaritzburg has earned the reputation of being one of the southern hemisphere's foremost cities of culture. Established in 1838, and now home to a population of 230,000 people, it is a dynamically commercial, educational and industrial centre, attracting many companies to relocate to the area; drawn by a quality of life not so readily obtained in South Africa's other large cities.

A ‘British Colonial' style has been stamped on the former Boer settlement, leaving an architectural legacy of world renown. The city is still a fine example of Victorian elegance, described by the Heritage Resources Agency as ‘one of the most important high character cities in Africa.' However, problems of a rising crime rate manifesting in the central business district were becoming a challenge and having a noticeably adverse affect on the income of the city. Tourists and residents avoiding the area had led to a loss of income for local businesses, resulting in a business migration from the region, with the resulting impact leaving the council with a reduced rate of income. Rising violence within offences was becoming a major concern for public safety. Opportunist crimes were becoming increasingly aggressive, and more serious incidents such as burglary and robbery frequently involved firearms. In this escalating scenario, criminals were operating without the fear of detection, resulting in witnesses to crimes being unwilling to come forward - as the understaffed authorities struggled to secure the safety of the area and its residents.

Addressing these manifesting problems directly, ‘Business Against Crime Pietermaritzburg' lead by Des Winship (Chairperson) and assisted by, Pieter van Rensburg of C&V Consulting Engineers and Superintendent Lucas Holtzhausen from the South African Police Service (SAPS), were instrumental in the inception of a project to collate information regarding criminal incidents. Using police statistics for each area of the city, concentrations of crimes were plotted using GPRS maps. Each reported incident was allocated to one of nine categories; common robbery, robbery using a firearm, robbery using a weapon, vehicle theft, theft from a vehicle, assault, burglary from a business, residential burglary, and pick pocketing. This methodical approach enabled specific areas to be identified as being in need of an effective security solution.

The investment in a high quality, Synectics based security system is being seen to be paying dividends

Des Winship and Pieter van Rensburg's conclusion led them to assert that to assist with a plan for the economic regeneration of the central business district, modern technology could be used to produce a manageable solution, with the associated benefit of reducing the police manpower required. Due to budget requirements, a phased approach to overall coverage was selected. Working to a mandate of ‘The right technology in the right places', May 2002 saw a sixteen camera CCTV system installed, including a control room and substantial fibre network. The initial step, concentrated on the central business area, was followed in 2003 with a second phase, extending the system by eighteen cameras. Providing an overlap between camera locations and eliminating any blind spots inherent in the previous system, the new system permitted high crime areas to be more densely covered.

The most recent addition of ten cameras to the system has also involved the deployment of the latest evolution of Synectics' SynergyPro control software which allows further refinement of the available event information; allowing detailed daily reports to be generated for each of the nine incident categories outlined. SynergyPro's powerful reporting capabilities are also used to collate intelligent numerical and graphical reports across an array of formats. Designed with Data Protection compliance in mind, SynergyPro's fully automated management audit trails are being used to provide comprehensive reports and logging of all operator activity in connection with any incident; by its nature, location, actions taken, and specifically, who in particular dealt with it, including the downloading of video evidence. Synergy derived information can also be used to rapidly compile reports to identify crime hot spotting. Reports that previously took days to produce, are now created ‘on demand', within a matter of minutes. A valuable management asset, this information is used to provide an ‘up to the minute' window of activity. This feature has proved to be invaluable for the fourth stage of the system, planned to roll out in 2005.

Pieter van Rensburg explained: "Being able to access such detailed information as this has enabled the planning of locations for additional cameras to be made far more effectively and easier. The quality of intelligent statistics generation means that we can better identify the areas needing surveillance, providing logical, generic growth of the system throughout the city."

To capitalise on the retrieval of video surveillance coverage, each camera in the system is assigned a specific operational requirement via a preset ‘operational sweep', meaning the camera is never parked in a stationary position (the associated request for heavy duty pre-set potentiometers came from previous operational experience!). The sweep programme is changed regularly to avoid potential offenders learning its pattern. With 1 operator to every 12 cameras, the installation allows manual control in a random order from any one of the four Synergy control equipped control stations. The investment in a high quality, Synectics based security system is being seen to be paying dividends. A reduction in criminal activity, and associated improvement in public perception of the area has resulted in businesses returning to the area - reinforcing Pietermaritzburg's position as one of Africa's leading business and tourist highlights.

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