On December 14 last year, a large tree fell on a woman and three children in a Malabar Hill locality. Seven kilometres away, 20-odd men and women in the Mumbai Police Control Room watched in horror as the scene unfolded on their TV screens. Losing no time, they notified the local police, who rushed to the site and rescued the three. The swiftness with which the police responded to the incident would have been unthinkable until last October, when 5,000 CCTV cameras became operational at 1,500 locations across Mumbai. L&T Infrastructure, the firm that installed the cameras, also employs the operators who view the feed from the cameras at the CCTV Command Control Centre in the police control room.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has termed the project a game changer. Deepak Devraj, Deputy Commissioner of Police (Operations) and Mumbai Police spokesperson, said the cameras have improved the police’s response time to incidents and contributed to crime detection as well as reducing crime.
The security camera network includes a combination of fixed and pan, tilt and zoom cameras. Several of them are equipped with automatic number plate recognition system and facial recognition capabilities. Inside the control centre, 20 individuals in six-hour shifts sit at desks with three large monitors playing footage from every part of the city, while the opposite wall is covered with 27 large screens displaying images from some of the most sensitive locations in Mumbai.
The CCTV operators are divided according to the city’s 13 policing zones and are shuffled every month. “The idea is that eventually everyone should know all parts of the city,” said an operator. “We watch areas where people go to jog early in the morning and evening and also concentrate on areas with a lot of schools in the afternoon,” said inspector Ghanshyam Patil, control room officer.
The police and civilian operators follow standard operating procedures developed for 13 different categories of incidents. “The categories include protests, festival processions, VIP movements and demolitions. The cameras were useful in keeping an eye on the Maratha Morcha a few months ago and during the Ganpati immersion processions. We could watch each person in the procession carefully. The footage is also useful to us in reviewing our bandobast later for improvements,” said Patil.
On an average, the operators spot and report between 50 and 60 incidents that require police intervention each day. These can range from vehicle collisions to sudden traffic jams and any suspicious gathering of people.
Just days before the Malabar Hill incident, a taxi driver was injured in Colaba when a white car that jumped the signal rammed into him. “Often there is a dispute over who is responsible for causing an accident. These cameras remove all doubts,” said Patil. Last month, footage from the cameras helped police track down a biker who allegedly mowed down an old woman who was crossing the road in Wadala.
Footage also helped police catch a kidnapper last year. Early morning on December 5, a screen showed a woman casually walking into a roadside hutment and leaving with a sleeping child. The operator who viewed the footage said the kidnapper took a lot of care not to be noticed, idled around the hutment for several minutes before entering it. “We have never seen anything like that before,” said the operator. The local police requested a copy of the footage to be used as evidence against the woman in court.
There is always a stunned silence each time something dramatic from the city’s streets comes up on screen, giving the operators seconds to respond and report the incident to the police. “We have to look at things like the police now,” said an operator.