Surveillance cameras in Nice: I’ll be watching you

In 1989, “Every Breath You Take” by the Police hit the airwaves and became a number one hit. Thirty years later it could be the theme song for the city of Nice – and police would still be in the picture.

Surveillance CamerasFor the size of the city, Nice has the most CCTV cameras in France with 915 public vidéosurveillance cameras.

Faced with a rise in violence and poorly controlled immigration (recently from Africa), Mayor Estrosi maintains that the system, which he personally instigated in 2010, is a necessary instrument for pre-venting and prosecuting street crime; police are in agreement, as 70 officers man the city’s surveillance network 24 hours a day.

In a typical example, the mayor cited a montage from several cameras, which had followed two suspects, first filmed grabbing a bag from a parked van before then making off on a scooter. As they raced through the busy narrow streets, they were filmed by camera after camera until they were finally stopped by a waiting police patrol when leaving the voie rapide.

Security conscious Estrosi claims that vidéosurveillance now accounts for solving as much as 36% of street crime: “Last year, 720 suspects were caught in flagranti thanks to CCTV. Without the cameras, many crimes would never have been prevented or solved.”

The French are characteristically protective of their personal privacy so giving some of it up for the sake of security doesn’t sit well. A common worry is that the tapes will be kept on file and used for less worthy reasons.

Officials say that these suspicions are groundless. A tape is never kept for more than ten days unless the authorities request it for investigative purposes. The cameras are constantly monitored but, except for judicial authorities, no one – not even the victims of crimes – can be shown the tapes until a judge’s order allows it. In 2013, these orders were requested 703 times.

“Even a police officer requires permission to obtain a tape,” according to Marcel Authier, the Alpes-Maritimes director of public security.

Investigators were able to retroactively follow the killers of Hélène Pastor from the main train station to a nearby hotel and later to the Archet hospital where the Monaco heiress and her chauffeur were shot. No camera is thought to have been close enough to record the ensuing crime in precise detail however.

Surveillance cameras are often used in real time to assist with traffic flow, handle emergencies and for accident prevention. Recently a monitoring officer saw a small child wander away from his mother, towards the tramway. Within a few minutes a police patrol was alerted and brought the toddler back to his worried mum.


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