Safe Cities: Collaborative Monitoring

For the Community, By the Community

Cities across the world are constantly changing and evolving faster than at any point in their history. They have become more congested, and criminal activities have soared leading to the destruction of public assets. Compounding the problems, terrorism has become a major concern that presents communities and neighbourhoods with new security problems. Faced with a wealth of challenges, which are often elusive, cities are expected to manage and control the change to allow their communities to have a standard of living that meets modern day expectations.

The terror attacks around the world reveal that most attacks are highly precise and well-coordinated, and targeted at high footfall areas to create a psychological impact along with monetary losses. Most of the citizens today are well aware of the risks and are in a state of constant anxiety about their safety and security. Hence, public safety has emerged as an important function for governments across the world.

Accordingly, the federal and state government departments responsible for internal affairs and homeland security continuously assess and monitor the internal security situation, issue appropriate advisories, share intelligence inputs, extend manpower support, and offer guidance and expertise to the state governments for the maintenance of security. This also helps in establishing infrastructure for safe cities by capitalising on features from the following distinct categories of surveillance systems:

  • Citywide police surveillance using Internet protocol (IP) based cameras, and
  • Citywide community surveillance including private and institutional surveillance for collaborative monitoring.

While the first system is becoming a standard solution for implementation to achieve the safe city vision, the latter is also gaining momentum to involve citizens and private and public institutions in collaborative monitoring. The following sections elaborate on the concept of collaborative monitoring.


Neel Ratan“Today, cities face a wide range of threats, ranging from terrorism and civil unrest to kidnapping and murder. To reduce the impact of these threats, it is critical for the authorities to capture real-time information on what is happening in and around the city. Therefore, there is a growing requirement for utilising the new and emerging technologies to make our cities safer. Given this background, one of the most user-friendly technologies that can play a crucial role is the extensive use of closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras, which play a vital part in ensuring day-to-day surveillance, crime prevention and monitoring of illegal or suspicious activities. In addition to close supervision, CCTV cameras allow post-incident analysis and collection of indisputable legal evidence. While the government and legal authorities are also encouraging both public entities/ groups and individuals to adopt such progressive technologies, mapping each and every nook and corner of a city without seeking the help of its people is impossible. This formed the basis of a unique community policing initiative called ‘collaborative monitoring.’ As the very phrase suggests, collaborative monitoring is a unique tool, wherein the security and law enforcement agency takes advantage of the extensive network of surveillance cameras deployed by communities across the city as well as the cameras of other private and government establishments on a need basis. It is an extremely prudent enabler for the police department, as while they strengthen their bond with the communities, they can use any information or footage gathered from these security cameras to support investigation and the prosecution of criminals. The advantage provided by leveraging the extensive network of external cameras ensures enhanced crime monitoring through a cost-effective, widespread and scalabe model”

– Neel Ratan

 India Government Leader and Regional Managing Partner, North PwC India


What is collaborative monitoring?

A key enabler for a safe city is the aspect of collaborative monitoring. In cities, where every government and private establishment has realised the necessity to secure its infrastructure and establish surveillance, monitoring and incident response systems, it is important that the data gathered by these agencies is shared among them. In such cities, CCTV-based surveillance systems are being deployed by federal as well as state government agencies at places like bus stands, metros, railway stations, airports, and other critical infrastructure spots and public places. These collaborative monitoring systems can conveniently share their data in real time with security agencies of the city. Similarly, live feeds from CCTV systems deployed by private establishments such as malls, hospitals, business parks and entertainment houses can be provided to the security and law enforcement agencies, which can make effective use of the information.

Leveraging the extensive network of external cameras ensures additional eyes are monitoring crime. In addition, the higher penetration of cameras helps in lowering costs.

Why collaborative monitoring?

In her famous work ‘Participation and Democratic Theory,’ Carole Pateman, the renowned political theorist, advocated a greater role for common people in Safe Cities: Collaborative Monitoringdemocratic selfrule and argued that development projects are more effective when beneficiaries have a role in the way projects are chosen, planned, implemented and evaluated. Giving citizens a role in initiatives designed for their benefit is considered to be an ideal way to ensure the sustainability and success of any project.

Many cities across the world have surveillance systems deployed by multiple public and private establishments. These cities are using the collaborative framework to receive video feeds from these systems to ensure real-time responses and as an invaluable source of crime detection and evidence for the law enforcement departments.

For an instance, the British Security Industry Authority (BSIA) estimated that there are up to 4.9 million CCTV cameras in the UK including 7,50,000 in ‘sensitive locations’ such as schools, hospitals and care homes. This translates to one camera for every 14 people in the UK.

The collaborative framework shall help to meet the following objectives:

Safety and security.

Improved responsiveness.

Effective policing

Improved management

Ensuring safety and security in fragile settings remains the key objective of law enforcement agencies, in addition to crisis management during serious incidents. The strategic objectives include the following in the given table:

Safe Cities: Collaborative Monitoring

PwC’s framework for collaborative monitoring

The entire ecosystem of cameras available to law enforcement agencies becomes significant when in addition to the law enforcement cameras, these agencies also have access to cameras that are installed across the city as part of other initiatives, including the very popular community surveillance cameras. Community surveillance cameras are primarily targeted for implementation at ‘establishments’ which are frequented by a large number of people. Such establishments may include places like commercial establishments, industrial establishments, religious places, educational institutions, hospitals, sports complexes, railway stations, bus stations, places of organised congregation, and other such establishments as the government may by notification declare to be an establishment for the purpose of collaborative monitoring.

To further explain this ecosystem, city surveillance at public places across the city can be divided into four categories:

Surveillance system in direct control of the city police:

Cameras directly under the control of the police department and owned by the state government, as set up under the city surveillance/ safe city project and monitored at central/ distributed command centres.

Community CCTV:

Cameras installed and owned by the community in clusters, which can be integrated into the existing surveillance system. The feed of the community cameras can be viewed at the command control centre on a need basis.

Surveillance system set up by other public institutions:

Cameras owned by and under the control of various public institutions like railways and airports.

Surveillance system set up by private institutions:

Cameras owned and controlled by private establishments such as large residential societies, hotels, malls, multiplexes, theatres, hospitals and schools.

Certain surveillance systems are already being deployed by many public and private establishments. With a stimulus from the local government, the installation of community CCTV surveillance systems has started, and a cluster-wise process has been deployed at a few places. Therefore, it becomes imperative for law enforcement agencies to have a system which will have a collaborative framework for receiving video feeds on a need basis from these systems and subsystems. Leveraging the capabilities of a good video management system (VMS), when clubbed with video analytics, will also allow efficient access to these external camera feeds at the command and control centre.

Collaborative monitoring of video feeds not only facilitates greater coverage of video surveillance within the city but also serves as deterrence for crimes and assists law enforcement agencies in controlling incident escalation, crime detection and its investigation.

Guiding principle

The following guiding principles should always be considered while planning, designing, implementing or maintaining the collaborative CCTV surveillance system:

  • The use of a surveillance camera system must always be for a specified purpose which is in pursuit of a legitimate aim and necessary to meet an identified pressing need.
  • The use of a surveillance camera system must take into account its effect on individuals and their privacy, with regular reviews to ensure its use remains justified.
  • There must be as much transparency as possible in the use of a surveillance camera system, including a published contact point for access to information and complaints.
  • There must be clear responsibility and accountability for all surveillance camera system activities, including images and information collected, held and used.
  • Clear rules, policies and procedures must be in place before a surveillance camera system is used, and these must be communicated to all who need to comply with them.
  • No more images and information should be stored than strictly required for the stated purpose of a surveillance camera system, and such images and information should be deleted once their purposes have been discharged.
  • Access to retained images and information should be restricted and there must be clearly defined rules on who can gain access and for what purpose such access is granted. The disclosure of images and information should only take place when it is necessary for such a purpose or for law enforcement purposes.
  • Surveillance camera system operators should consider any approved operational, technical and competency standards relevant to a system, and its purpose and work to meet and maintain those standards.
  • Surveillance camera system images and information should be subject to appropriate security measures to safeguard them against unauthorised access and use.
  • There should be effective review and audit mechanisms to ensure that legal requirements, policies and standards are complied with in practice, and regular reports should be published.
  • When the use of a surveillance camera system is in pursuit of a legitimate aim, and there is a pressing need for its use, it should then be used in the most effective way to support public safety and law enforcement with the aim. of processing images and information of evidential value.
  •  Any information used to support a surveillance camera system which compares against a reference database for matching purposes should be accurate and kept up to date.
  • Clear roles and responsibilities, including liabilities of each stakeholder with timelines, should be defined, as applicable.
  • A crime assessment should be conducted to identify more accurately what crime problems are occurring, and where and when.
  • Establishments should carefully place CCTV cameras to cover all the areas of vulnerability. It is important that sensitive and critical areas are covered with proper lighting, viewing angles and visibility so that the CCTV feeds give a clear picture of the activity and identify individuals.
  • Establishments should install CCTV cameras and related components meeting open and consistent standards (and avoid any system with proprietary standards). It is recommended that CCTV cameras and related systems comply with the Open Network Video Interface Forum (ONVIF) or Physical Security Interoperability Alliance (PSIA) standards.
  • A periodic review and assessment (at least once in three months, preferably by third-party firms) of the CCTV system should be conducted and documented for management verification.
  • Community CCTV systems should be integrated with the control room at the local police station as well as command centre for access to camera feeds on an on-demand basis for monitoring and incident management by the law enforcement agencies.
  • Standard operating procedures and a code of practice should be developed and implemented to set the standards and guide the operation of the scheme.
  • Government/ law enforcement agencies may consider contracting a consultant with appropriate CCTV expertise to assist in conducting a study of the ‘as is state,’ developing draft specifications, functional requirements and standard operating procedures.
  • The approved private sector agencies involved in the provision of CCTV services for collaborative monitoring solutions would, of course, be expected to comply with all codes of conduct, protocols and standard operating procedures developed and applied by the local government.


Due to the vast deployment of various CCTV surveillance systems across the city, it is imperative to adopt a standard process for such a roll-out by communities and sustain these systems for a longer period. As a first step, local governments can come up with public safety acts or guidelines with standardised processes and specifications defined to ensure that consistent, sustainable, scalable, quality-based and interoperable systems are deployed.

As part of the collaborative monitoring initiative, on behalf of the community, city police departments can also initiate a process of empanelment of CCTV system integrators (SIs) for the supply, installation, operations and maintenance of systems by public institutions or by community associations. The cost for setting up a CCTV based surveillance system within a community area can be borne by the respective community group, while the local government may also support them in arranging for funds through federal and state funding, if available. The option of getting financial assistance from large corporates, institutions, public sector firms etc., can also be explored to reduce the financial burden on communities who are unable to arrange for the required funding.

Once this community surveillance system is implemented, it should be connected with law enforcement agencies for collaborative monitoring. The cost for connecting the community with the viewing centres of law enforcement agencies and maintenance cost of this connectivity can be borne by the local governments. Sharing of resources within communities may further reduce the total cost of ownership for these communities.

Further to the above, some of the design considerations to be followed while planning the integration of community surveillance systems are as follows:

  • Only a third-party VMS, which has a pure play Web interface, must be deployed (i.e., no need to configure specific ports or install intelligent ActiveX/ Java). This will ensure no compromise of the IT security of the control centre.
  • A third-party VMS capable of providing replay using a screen-recording solution will ensure the displayed video is available later for replay/ playback.
  • Third-party VMS configuration will be accessible only from the native third-party VMS module.


  • Multiple stakeholders: With more stakeholders using and accessing the same systems, there is a greater risk to an individual’s privacy.
  • Waste of resources: If not planned correctly, systems are used in the same areas and are independent of each other, covering the same space, using different networks or fibres and for the same purpose, which is a clear waste of resources.
  • Risk to freedom of expression and association: A sufficiently powerful public camera could endanger rights to freedom of expression by giving the government an extensive record of what individuals do, and whom they associate with.
  • Government accountability and procedural safeguards: Pervasive public video surveillance systems could allow officials to evade both procedural safeguards and accountability. Moreover, with numerous organisations working together to offer a completely integrated CCTV model, it is quite possible that lines of responsibility will be blurred.
  • Equal protection and anti-discrimination: Discrimination retards the very ability of any insular minority group – be it religious, racial, cultural, political or ethnic – to participate fully in civil society. Discriminatory use of surveillance can also give ammunition to those with salacious or malicious agendas.
  • Existing laws and regulatory proposals: Conflict with existing laws and regulations is to be avoided and protection of all rights of the citizens as per the constitution is to be ensured.
  • Standardisation and interoperability: Since each community will be responsible for its own solution being implemented, non-standard equipment/ applications and lack of interoperability may defeat the whole purpose of putting the system in place. If necessary, new acts such as public safety (measures) can be enforced to ensure a consistent, standardised and sustainable framework.
  • Lack of awareness within communities: Many a times, such initiatives do not move forward for next steps due to a lack of awareness or motivation within communities. This can be avoided if proper awareness campaigns and visits to model sites are arranged across the communities.
  • Funding issues: Sometimes, a lack of sufficient funding or sustainable operations and a maintenance framework creates a bottleneck in moving forward. The government may come up with various subsidies or may even have a rate contract with approved SIs to provide services at an already negotiated rate, with a cap on maximum charges. Funding from urban local bodies (ULBs) can also be utilised.
  • Crime displacement: In few of the cases, efforts to implement community surveillance to reduce opportunities for crime do not truly lower crime but merely change where, when or how it is committed. Thus, the introduction of cameras in one area or neighbourhood could result in increased crime elsewhere.
  • Privacy and anonymity issues: Unless procedural limits are implemented, law enforcement officers might use video surveillance to improperly monitor private activity or otherwise go beyond the bounds of their authority. Without accountability safeguards, moreover, the officers might never have to explain their actions.

The following are a few of the key concerns which may arise in the minds of citizens:

Which organisation is collecting images and for what purposes?

Where are the images stored? ² Who has access to this information?

Are they being transferred to third parties?

What are the safeguards in place to protect these images?

How long will they be stored before deletion?

Hence, collaborative monitoring could be a way forward, but it is not without risks. However, with careful consideration, these risks can be managed. The process itself should ensure checks on such risks to garner the maximum fruits out of such initiatives.


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