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The All-Seeing Eye. How CCTV cameras work in St. Petersburg


A special department is being created now in Moscow, which will investigate footage from CCTV cameras.


The footage will not only help solving murders, but also figure out basic roadside conflicts, find a store thief or expose outrageous situations.

For instance, today a video was made public online, showing unprofessional behavour from ambulance workers. A man is being carried out with no stretchers. He’s dragged by arms and legs. After which they put him on the wet pavement by the car and wait for him to hop aboard. The recording is being investigated to learn the names of those medics.

This and many other shots from CCTV cameras in St. Petersburg flock to the City Monitoring Center. Alexander Burenin found out how it worked.

All information from the majority of city cameras goes to the Monitoring Center. But several dozen operators would not be able to keep track of thousands of devices in real time. The video is archived, and it is brought up in case of necessity. Cameras help to clarify many roadside conflicts.

Alexander Burenin, reporter: «More than 3 thousand cameras, all the info flocks here. For instance, here’s a traffic accident on Vladimirskiy Prospekt. There are no injured or casualties, but its important for car owners - and particularly for their insurance companies - to find out who’s at fault. If an incident is not resolved on the spot, any car owner can turn to the Center and the recording would be used to clarify the picture».

Lets rewind. The incident looks simple - sharp break in a congested traffic flow. Specialists will not take a lot of time to see who’s wrong here. It seems easy. But there are more and more inquiries with each day. From law enforcement and lawyers of ordinary citizens.

Alexander Kudryavtsev, first deputy head of «City Monitoring Center»: «I have to sign 30-40 such documents every day. We feel fine when the number of such inquiries grows. It means people need information - and its trustworthy, objective and is in demand»

Although details of «road wars» are also captured by recording devices of a lower calibre - dashcams. Besides, recording even a major crime doesnt always mean it would be solved. CCTV footage often captures the moment of shot or impact - action, that is - but important details, like perp’s identity or features, often stay in grey area. Hence the stats of solved crimes in a multi-million city.

Vyacheslav Stepchenko, head of information and public relations department of Interior Ministry Directorate in St. Petersburg: «In 2014, CCTV cameras footage allowed us to solve 115 crimes. 12 have been solved in Januart 2015. The system also carries a major preventive aspect»

What would you do when the picture has the so-called wide angle and there are no details? Thats when the Monitoring Center’s job is finished - having relayed the images - and specialists step in. A special department is now launched in Moscow which would gather all footage, commentaries by bloggers and study recordings. It is also being done in St. Petersburg, but not centralized - and yet nobody’s contemplating the creation of a designated department. Red-tape is also in force. Quite often, law enforcement agencies cannot get immediate access to a certain recording.

Evegeniy Vyshenkov, journalist: «A policeman sees where a camera was located, finds out who it belongs to, files an inquiry, then gets on a car and drives there through the traffic to pick it up. Even if an immediate access is needed, it may still take hours»

But recording are more frequently used by journalists now. And they get those quickly enough. Thanks to surveillance cameras, both city and private ones, details of many events - such as a bus incident on Nevskiy Prospekt, shooting at Dumskaya, high-resonance robberies and assasinations - became public. And despite that the «Big Brother» is watching you a lot closer now, grey areas do exist. Besides, even the most up-to-date cameras do break. Sometimes - in a very bad moment too.