Brains behind the virtual eyes and ears of police

Brains behind the virtual eyes and ears of police
The Body-Worn Camera.
PHOTO: Singapore Police Force

Police surveillance cameras are the virtual eyes and ears of the Singapore Police Force in the heartland.

Footage from the cameras, which have been installed at HDB blocks since 2012, has helped to solve more than 430 cases and provided crucial leads for 890 investigations.

The brains behind the "virtual eyes and ears" belong to the Sensory Systems Division (SSD) in the Police Technology Department (PTD).

The PTD provides the police force with relevant and up-to-date technology, with the SSD focusing its efforts on surveillance technology that can enhance policing efforts in Singapore.

Earlier this year, the SSD rolled out the Body-Worn Camera that makes audio and video recordings and is meant to be worn on the front of an officer's uniform.

The division's head of system management, Ms Goh Siew Lee, 35, said: "Some people watch CSI (a popular television show about police forensic investigations) and think the police can just use super high-tech gadgets.

"But we must be practical and cost-effective. Is facial recognition or super advanced technology suitable for a particular operation? Does it meet their needs?

"These are the things that our unit will explore and advise."

The division has about 30 people, whose efforts have helped to solve crimes such as illegal loansharking activities, vehicle thefts and molest cases more efficiently.

Ms Goh, who has been with the police for eight years, said: "We mainly provide back support for the operations teams and are more 'behind-the-scenes'.

"But every time we see that a crime has been solved and a CCTV (closed-circuit television) image has played a part, we feel a sense of achievement."

TRIAL AND ERROR

Ms Goh, who has 12 years of experience in surveillance systems and left the private sector to join the police, is part of the Police Camera project that aims to install surveillance cameras in 10,000 HDB blocks by next year.

Mr Chan Li Wei, 32, a project manager in the Sensory Systems Division, was part of the team that introduced the Body-Worn Camera to Neighbourhood Police Centres to enhance the crime-fighting capabilities of frontline officers.

He said that besides perfecting the Body-Worn Camera technology, the team had to make sure the cameras were ergonomic and that officers felt comfortable wearing them.

"They had to be effective and practical. We tinkered with different kinds of prototypes, putting cameras on glasses and on lanyards, before we finally decided on putting it on the officer's shoulder.

"There was a lot of trial and error," said Mr Chan, who also used to work in the private sector.

Mr Chan said the Police Technology Department has to be sharp and adaptable because criminals can adapt to the placement of police cameras and avoid surveillance hot spots.

He said: "You have to be flexible. You need to make sure that your technology is future-proof and will continue to be relevant for the force for some time after it is implemented."

CAUGHT ON POLICE CAMERAS

OCTOBER 2014

Police cameras installed near Serangoon Avenue 4 helped officers identify a 30-year-old suspect in the theft of a motor vehicle.

He was arrested five days after the report was made and the vehicle was recovered on the same day.

DECEMBER 2013

Footage from police cameras installed near a multi-storey carpark near Wellington Circle helped police identify and arrest a 22-year-old suspect in the theft of a motorcycle on Dec 22.

The stolen motorcycle was recovered on the same day.

NOVEMBER 2012

A robber was nabbed hours after his second attack on two pregnant women, thanks to footage from police cameras at the Tampines block of the first victim.

His identity was established less than six hours after he assaulted and tried to rob a Filipino architect on Nov 12.

He was arrested two days later after robbing an accounts executive.

He was jailed for six years and given 16 strokes of the cane.


This article was first published on Oct 31, 2015.
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