Prague eyes more police cameras

Surveillance network will be expanded out of the city center

The eyes of the city will be everywhere. Prague is adding dozens of new cameras in public places and upgrading old ones. The cost of the project, along with operating expenses, will come to Kč 583.5 million.

The city intends to expand the municipal camera system (MKS) in an effort to stop crime. City Hall backed the proposal that was based on documents prepared at the end of last year.

Dozens of cameras will be added annually until 2020 and a large part of the money set aside will go to making improvements to existing ones, City Councilor Libor Hadrava (ANO), who is responsible for security, told the media.

The city center is already heavily covered by cameras, with some public areas at 90 percent. The outlying areas of the city currently have much less coverage. These areas will be getting more cameras. The locations will be decided by police.

The pole- and wall-mounted cameras do more than monitor suspicious or potential criminal activity such as robberies or traffic infractions. They can also be used to compile traffic statistics to help with urban planning and the development of a smart city.

Over the next 10 years, cameras may appear in vehicles that are integrated into the monitoring system. Video images could also be sent live from policeman equipped with digital cameras, tablets or smartphones.

A controversial aspect of the plan for more cameras is the potential introduction of facial recognition software that also has algorithms to spot suspicious behavior. Using such software has been discussed in the past, but it is not part of the current plan.

Ondřej Profant, a city councilor from the opposition Pirate Party, told news server Prazsky.denik.cz that the cameras are ultimately not effective in fighting crime, as criminals simply learn to adapt to avoid them. A hat, for example, will block overhead cameras from recognizing a face.

He added that in London, street criminals such as pick pockets have simply learned to behave in ways that don't trigger the cameras. Profant said cameras should be at parking lots where they could do some good and not interfere with people's right to privacy. The money for the high-definition cameras and data storage could be better spent on added police patrols.

Police spokeswoman Andrea Zoulová said the cameras help reduce police response time, and have so far helped to clear 25,000 cases each year.

Across Europe, most surveillance cameras are privately operated. In the UK, figures released under the Freedom of Information Act in 2011 showed the government operated some 52,000 across the UK in 2002. Other sources estimated that in 2011 the UK had 1.85 million surveillance cameras, counting private ones. Police officials have in the past gained access to private camera footage to search for evidence of criminal activity.

London is estimated to now have 10,500 state-run cameras, covering 8.6 million people. Berlin has even more, with 12,000 cameras covering 3.2 million people. Prague currently has 2,000 city-operated cameras covering 1.2 million people.

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