New cameras helping detect crimes

Northern prefecture criminal department had to admit defeat while trying to identify a professional thief after the event – the picture by public camera was only good enough to point out a dark coat and hat. Half of Tallinners would have been suspects... 

So basically the picture was useless.

Also, pictures of suspected cars are often only good to detect the colour and body type. And the brand, if lucky. For years, it usually remained but a dream to also read the special features, to say nothing about number plate.

Such situations – and there have been many – should now be a thing of the past. At the beginning of the year, the city of Tallinn purchased high resolution cameras with options to make the pictures clear for investigators.

«If needed, we will read the number combinations,» said Police and Border Guard security camera manager Margo Erm.

A good month

The new cameras have been operating in streets of Tallinn for a month and the performance has been good. As success stories, the police cite two pickpockets caught in Old City, and identification of people involved in a Suur-Karja St fight.

Earlier, identification of fighters was limited to watching blurry images. Now the options are better. «If needed, we will even see the beard line,» says Mr Erm. For that, the picture manager needs to happen upon the fight and zoom the camera on a baddy. Then, the result is almost perfect.  

At that, the camera cannot of course bee zoomed in after the event. Even so, the enhanced quality offers way more options than what was available before.

A total of 42 new cameras are now installed in the streets of Tallinn – the overall amount about a hundred – and the data volume forwarded so vast that the police had to get 30 new servers to store that. Why? Because law prescribes that the recordings be preserved for up to a month.

In reality, they keep these for an average of two months. And should the volumes further increase – almost a given – the latest city government procurement allows to buy 20 servers more.

Watched in alarm centres

For us ordinary people, a hundred-some cameras in Tallinn potentially watched in real time at Lasnamäe police alarm centre may seem an awful lot. The more so that only four-five are monitoring major intersections while lion’s share are focussed at pedestrian areas in parks, Old Town, and vicinity of intersections. But the reason is simple: more is happening among pedestrians than in the traffic.  

And the hundred-some does not seem too much when we learn that for all of Estonia, the police uses about 1,400. Like in Tallinn, about half have been purchased by local governments.

Real-time, many of the cameras send images into Southern and Eastern alarm centres where constant monitoring is available. Largely, local governments trust the police with processing of pictures and recording.

In alarm centres, the information sent by cameras is monitored by policemen who can thus be pre-alerted to calls or seek criminals departing the scene from nearly camera images.

In Lasnamäe alarm centre alone, 24 pictures are simultaneously being displayed on a wall, and an operator is doing her best to keep an eye on it. «Takes some getting used to,» admits a senior operative information officer Jane Varipuu.