From a crime-ridden neighbourhood to one of the safest – How to fight crime

Sharonlea is currently one of the safest neighbourhoods in Johannesburg, with very few crime incidents despite it being a completely open area.

This, however, was not always the case. Sharonlea was a crime-ridden area 12 years ago, with up to four break-ins per week.

RSS Security Services CEO Brett Fisher then got involved and worked with the Central Sharonlea Residents Forum (CSRF) to fight crime in the neighbourhood.

Fisher said the CSRF and its chairman Richard Shuttle were dynamic, which made it possible to quickly and effectively implement interventions to combat crime.

Deploying guards was ineffective

They started off by deploying guards onto the streets, but the streets were too long to be effectively patrolled and guards had limited visibility at night, even with torches.

“The criminals would simply hide, wait for the guards to do a patrol, and then had plenty time to do the crime,” Fisher said.

The guards were then given bicycles, but breakdowns and maintenance problems also rendered this solution ineffective.

Fisher then bought the guards golf carts with security lights, which in addition to faster patrolling also provided protection from the rain.

This solution, however, didn’t last long as the golf carts were confiscated by the metro police for not being “roadworthy”.

“Together with the committee we were left scratching our heads for an effective solution,” Fisher said.

Using technology for an effective solution

Fisher and the CSRF looked at security systems used in the United States and the UK, and started to understand the power of a high-tech CCTV system.

“We were wondering how a place like Heathrow Airport could be monitored effectively with CCTV, yet there are massive crowds of people 24 hours a day there,” Fisher explained.

“The answer was CCTV with the correct software, using various analytics. We realised that if they could do it with an airport that size, we could do it in Sharonlea.”

Fisher and the CSRF took a bold decision: they got rid of the guards and removed access control booms in the area in favour of a CCTV system with armed response.

The effect was seen immediately, and crime started to plummet. Today it is one of the safest neighbourhoods in Johannesburg.

The technology used

Sharonlea is currently covered by over 80 2MP and 4MP CCTV and thermal cameras with automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) and advanced analytics software.

The camera feeds are carried to an offsite monitoring control room (OSM) over a fibre and wireless mesh network which provides ample bandwidth and complete redundancy.

By using the latest technology, the video streams are recorded on-camera at a point-of-presence in the suburb itself and in the control room.

This provides three data locations for the same stream to ensure that video backups are never lost, even if one of the storage solutions fail.

Two dedicated TRSS armed reaction vehicles are then on standby and can react immediately if something suspicious is detected.

Fisher explained that there are various virtual zones and tripwires set up throughout the suburb.

“Cameras that are set up correctly and monitored offsite turn a reactive system into a proactive system – essentially stopping the crime before it happens,” Fisher said.

“If there is a suspicious person on a pavement in Sharonlea, looking at a way to jump over a wall, the cameras trigger in the control room and a TRSS Reaction vehicle is despatched.”

“Before the criminal can think of getting over the wall he is either arrested, chased, or escorted out the area.”

Same system now used in various other suburbs

Fisher said RSS Security Services is now using the same CCTV systems throughout the northern suburbs.

“The technology has obviously improved from 10 years ago, and we now have IP cameras, amazing analytics, and fibre connections,” Fisher said.

While this solution is highly effective, Fisher said the sad reality is that it does not get rid of crime.

Instead, criminals merely move to areas without these CCTV solutions which can cause tension in neighbouring suburbs.

Sharonlea – one of Joburg’s safest suburbs

The Big Issue recently looked at Sharonlea’s tremendous success at becoming one of Johannesburg’s safest suburbs.

Now read: Fighting crime using high-tech cameras

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From a crime-ridden neighbourhood to one of the safest – How to fight crime