Vumacam has Johannesburg and eThekwini under surveillance

The company is putting in clever urban security mechanisms, using advanced technology in the fight against crime: CEO Ricky Croock.

RYK VAN NIEKERK: Vumacam is one of the leading companies to have rolled out a network of CCTV cameras in the streets and suburbs of Johannesburg, including the East and the West Rand. Its main purpose is to fight crime. The company has now spread its wings to Durban, and has already started with a rollout of the first phase of around 115 poles in critical locations in the city.

Ricky Croock is on the line. He is the CEO of Vumacam. Ricky, thank you so much for joining me. Before we look at the Durban expansion, just tell us about your network in Johannesburg. How big is it, and what actually do you do every day?

RICKY CROOCK: Thanks so much for having me, and I really appreciate it. What we do every day is a multitude of different things, mainly trying to solve this massive challenge that we sit with in this crime epidemic. Crime is increasing on a daily basis and we need to step in and try to coordinate it and put in clever mechanisms, and use technology in the fight against crime.

The main principle around Vumacam is really around a platform and a combination of putting up a set of infrastructures across the city that’s shared between the private security companies and then also links it to the public sector.

Read: eThekwini to get more than a hundred CCTV cameras

The evolution of security is always going to be around technology and how security companies can use technology, in combination with their manpower, in putting holistic solutions together. What’s been a challenge over the years is that security companies are quite territorial and don’t like sharing information.

We’ve now said we’ll put up a common set of infrastructure, we’ll do the complexities around the way, leads, the rights, power, connectivity, hosting, storage, configuration, and wrap it up as a service and give that to the security companies, who are then all sharing the same set of infrastructure and then sharing information across that platform in the fight against crime. That’s really where we’ve got to.

Over the last two to three years we’ve installed over 3 000 poles across the City of Johannesburg and 1 600 of those poles are live with cameras. On a daily basis we are installing more cameras and building up that network, which is over 6 500 cameras at the moment.

RYK VAN NIEKERK: I live in Johannesburg and you see those cameras virtually on every street corner in many suburbs. But the monitoring of those video feeds must be a very, very complicated and complex task. How are feeds monitored?

RICKY CROOCK: We’ve built an application called Proof360, which takes the feeds. We’ve got two sets of cameras on each of the poles. We’ve got overview cameras and number-plate recognition cameras. The number-plate recognition cameras scan the licence plates of the cars that are passing by and queries it against the vehicle of interest database and the SAPS [SA Police Service] database to tell you if that car’s been involved in a crime or is stolen. And only that alert is then sent to the relevant security company of that suburb, who then notifies on an exception basis that there’s now a stolen vehicle entering into the suburb; send your ground forces to intercept or detain, and at the same time escalate that to SAPS and JMPD [Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department] so that they then back up the private security companies.

RYK VAN NIEKERK: So the main communication goes from Vumacam. If there is a suspicious vehicle, for example, in an area, it goes to the security company and the responsibility is then on the security company to react?

RICKY CROOCK: Correct. We are literally the platform, we don’t run control rooms, we never look at the video. We just orchestrate and integrate the various technologies so that we can get, into the simplest format, into the security companies’ control rooms, who run these national operation centres. They then operationalise it through the Proof360 application that we’ve built specifically for their environment.

RYK VAN NIEKERK: Have you done any research on the extent of the reduction in crime flowing from this vast CCTV network?

RICKY CROOCK: We have. I often get the question around quantifying the effectiveness of CCTVs. It’s very difficult to say ‘we’ve put up cameras and it’s stopped X amount of incidents from taking place’.

What we have found is we’ve taken crime stats prior to installing in a specific area and then, 12 months after that we’ve seen a huge reduction, up to a 78% reduction in crime that’s taken place.

It’s well documented.

So we work very well with, for example, the Sandton Central improvement district. We have put up 333 cameras across the Sandon improvement district and over an eight-month period they’ve made 136 arrests just in that precinct, and found that suspicious and stolen cars were actually avoiding going through that area because of the effectiveness of the combination of the cameras and the ground force…

RYK VAN NIEKERK: Is one of the key areas where you are successful the recovery of stolen vehicles?

RICKY CROOCK: Correct. Again, we are just the platform and we’ve got great partners [in] our security companies who use our platform to get that information and allocate their resources and make those arrests. But there are arrests and detainees on a daily basis.

RYK VAN NIEKERK: Let’s talk about the expansion to Durban. I would’ve thought you would’ve been more active in more cities already. I was actually surprised to see that you hadn’t rolled out a network in Durban.

RICKY CROOCK: The main premise of what we’re trying to do is to build up this network effect. In order to have the network effect you have to have the density of cameras in a specific region. It doesn’t really help if you’ve got one pole here and one pole there, because it doesn’t really give you the information if a car now turned left or turned right, or the guys have changed their number plates, or what that modus operandi actually looks like. We wanted to spend time diversifying the city of Joburg.

Read: Vumatel to blanket Joburg in CCTV cameras (2019)

At the same time we do have infrastructure in Mogale and Ekurhuleni, but we wanted to prove that the densification … and getting rights in the municipal is quite tricky, so we have to go through a whole process.

We are a licensed ECNS [electronic communications network service] provider, we are registered with PSiRA [Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority], so we’ve gone through all the regulatory hoops. We are working with the information regulator and making sure that we can assist in building the code of conduct for the industry. So regulatory – and that’s top priority – but it’s coupled with the densification of the poles, proving out the effectiveness. And now that we’ve got that density, we’ve got the tech to where we want it to be and expand on a daily basis, we want to expand into the rest of the major metros.

And with the city of eThekwini … the challenges that the guys had in the riots last year have really highlighted the need for video verification and additional data [and] they’ve actively pursued working with us.

We’ve put our hand up to say we are happy to invest into the area. We did see your article, and just a point of clarification: where you said we are investing R1 million, it’s up to R20 million on phase one, and we look to go just short of a R100 million investment into the city of eThekwini to make sure that we can get the right number of cameras and get that densified network effect.

RYK VAN NIEKERK: How does the network work? Do you install fibre to the poles, or do you use another technology to actually relay the feeds to a control centre?

RICKY CROOCK: We do use fibre to take it back into a tier-three data centre, the same kind of data centre [where] your information around your insurance companies and your banking sits. So highly secure. We take the feeds back via a fibre cable. Part of our company’s .Vumatel is a shareholder in a separate entity into Vumacam. So we do work closely with them, but at the same time we are fibre-agnostic. If there are other fibre providers we will use their fibre to back up all the data to our data centre.

RYK VAN NIEKERK: You foresee rolling out these networks in other metros, as well, as you said. Pretoria, Cape Town, Bloemfontein, PE and the like?

RICKY CROOCK: Correct. We think it works on a national basis. We think that syndicates move from different metros, and the more information that we can provide about these syndicates that are moving provides additional information; the wider the network the more information there is, the more success we think our partners in the security companies will achieve.

RYK VAN NIEKERK: Let’s talk about the actual video feeds. Who has access to those feeds, and could a member of the public get access to this particular feed if there was an incident maybe in their suburb?

RICKY CROOCK: We are very pedantic about who can have access to it. We work with security providers who are PSiRA registered. There’s a whole vetting process. They have to sign on in an operator agreement according to the Popi Act.

We also have a close tie-in relationship with Business Against Crime, and under the E2 [Eyes and Ears Initiative] project, which is a national project that facilitates the working relationship between the public sector and the private sector.

So there’s a whole lot of onboarding of docs and processes and vetting that needs to take place before a security company can have access into our system. Once they have access into our system, they have viewing rights but they have no ability to download that footage. They then have to log a support ticket with us. We confirm what they’re looking for. Only then do we release the footage to them – and that goes through the Business Against Crime war room, which is the combination of bringing the public and private sector together.

With individuals, they can approach their security companies, they can bring a PIA [Privacy Impact Assessment] request, but primarily we want the security companies to enable the communities that they look after, and assist in making sure that we can view the right footage in a very controlled fashion, and released on that basis, also making sure that if it does lead to evidence in court, that it’s been downloaded in the correct fashion, and who has downloaded it. It’s all watermarked, it’s date-stamped, it’s time-stamped.

We are following quite a rigorous procedure so that it does get admissible to court and hopefully in the end the suspect gets prosecuted.

RYK VAN NIEKERK: For civil claims, for example, can insurance companies get access to the video?

RICKY CROOCK: We are working with insurance companies. There’s a large …  challenge within the insurance space around fraudulent claims, and up to 30% to 40% of claims have been noted to be fraudulent claims, which obviously costs everyone and increases individual premiums. We do have a big trial to work with insurance companies to assist. Fraud is a criminal offense and fits into that ambit around crime fighting.

RYK VAN NIEKERK: What exactly is your revenue model? Do you sell these feeds to the local security companies and communities?

RICKY CROOCK: Our market and monetisation around this is through the private sector. We work closely with the security companies, who then subscribe for the feeds, and then they either take it as an additional cost in their business in delivering a solution, or pass it on to the end user. We think working as an industry collective, and with multiple security companies passing onto the end users, we can get to rates of R20 or R30 per end-user that allows us to build up the smart city and additional cameras, which keeps everyone safer.

If everyone contributes a little bit to the smart-city initiative, it allows us to put up more infrastructure and then obviously bring down the high level of crime.

RYK VAN NIEKERK: Ricky, thank you so much for joining me today. That was Ricky Croock, the CEO of Vumacam.

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COMMENTS   1

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How long does it take to register the number plate of a vehicle involved in a crime on the SAPS database?

How many of the criminals are driving cars with the original plates still on the car?

How does one get access to the footage? Court order?

End of comments.

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