Travel Notes: CCTV in Dobrich, November 2009

Travel notes: CCTV in Dobrich, Bulgaria

Almost everybody around the table agreed: The city of Dobrich needs a CCTV system. What for? Of course to fight crime, but also to enforce road traffic regulations. What precisely are the offenses that are aimed at, especially given that Dobrich has not a particular bad crime statistic? Why are there CCTV cameras in schools? What other measures are in place? For some at the table these questions seemed a waste of time, just like presentations of methodologies and instruments to implement a strategic knowledge based approach to urban safety. Why not see things pragmatically? There is a certain budget, why not discuss what equipment can be bought with it? proposed a representative of the local police force?

Nadejda Petkova, Deputy Mayor of Dobrich, who had been listening, encouraged all representatives of the local safety stakeholders to get into the spirit of the EU-financed project “Together for urban safety”. She underlined what was needed was tackling this issue step by step. Identifying problems, studying possible solutions, defining the goals of a CCTV system before considering setting one up. The partnership project with the European Forum for Urban Safety and the French city of Saint-Herblain provides an opportunity to obtain ideas for well preparing such a project. It allows getting to know methods to set up an integrated strategy for urban security and of course learning from the experiences with CCTV of another city. And it includes a phase of conducting a small safety audit in Dobrich to implement the procedure proposed by the European Forum. Ms Petkova underlined why this is important: As her colleague from Saint-Herblain had underlined CCTV is expensive. And resources in Dobrich, as everywhere else, are limited. The city simply cannot afford to spend resources on something that doesn’t work and needs to well concentrate its investments. Moreover, she knows, to obtain important funding for the CCTV, a well-prepared and argued project is indispensable.

This is precisely why the city, and its director for economic development and EU funds, Daniela Milkova, had taken the initiative to apply for structural funds to organise this exchange with the European Forum and the city of Saint-Herblain. This is how I found myself at the end of November 2009 at this conference table in a very nice hotel in Dobrich together with the vice mayor of Saint-Herblain, Dominique Talledec, the city’s director for safety Eric Fossembas, the head of its CCTV control centre Philippe Bourgoin and my colleague Maye Seck. For two and half days, we were in Dobrich in the north-east of Bulgaria, 30km from the black sea, to get to know this city of  100 000 inhabitants and to start sharing what we know about making good use of CCTV.

Expectations were high. EU funding is almost perceived as a miracle solution and not everybody understands why the city hasn’t immediately applied for the funding of a CCTV scheme. That the French guests asked all these questions and talked about more or less abstract concepts was not what all participants had in mind. As we repeatedly underlined that CCTV was only a tool but not the solution, talked about alternative and necessary complementary prevention measures, about the limits of CCTV, the choice to use more or less CCTV in and even the protection of liberties and human rights, several participants got the impression that we wanted to talk Dobrich out of its CCTV project.

However, the delegation of the city of Saint-Herblain was actually by itself the proof that this was not the case. The city, presiding the French Forum for Urban, has been using CCTV for years and spends 1% of its annual budget on video protection. Its presentation of its CCTV system was much appreciated.
After a while, the purpose of the meeting and the process proposed by the city became clearer. For example at the beginning the local participants saw themselves all united in their wish for CCTV. However, the discussion showed that their aims were not identical. For the state police enforcement of road traffic regulations is important, as it creates revenue for the government. Moreover, the head of the regional police force hopes to be able to withdraw officers from the city to the surrounding villages, once they will be made redundant by cameras. Need for further clarification became apparent. The discussion also revealed that Dobrich had already learned itself that simply putting up cameras doesn’t do the trick. The cameras a constructions company had sponsored when renovating pedestrian underpasses and bus stops were renovated didn’t help at all as they were not integrated into any structure and the image quality not sufficient for investigation.
The fact that in addition to the considerable investments, operating costs were very important in Saint-Herblain, considerably increased the interest in a more thorough preparation of the CCTV project in Dobrich. At the same time the example of Saint-Herblain already gave ideas for how to proceed in a more economic way. Dobrich should centralise all its alarms and CCTV images so that the police or the city’s departments can follow up on them. Such a system could be started with a limited number of cameras, which should be installed in those places where they are most useful. To protect municipal buildings and infrastructure (for which currently the decentralised CCTV systems in schools are set up) could be assured by traditional and significantly cheaper distance alarm systems.

Though, the actual recommendations of what to do will only be the result of the project. Following this first meeting a local safety audit will allow collecting more thoroughly the city’s needs. The study visit in France will then give further ideas of how these needs can be addressed before concluding in the action plan for the city.

This first visit to Dobrich was an indispensable step for a fruitful cooperation amongst all actors. It has shown especially to several local actors that this process of exchange and cooperation is an intrinsic part of an integrated approach to urban safety. The great Bulgarian hospitality has of course made the beginning of this local and European cooperation significantly easier. Ms Nikolova, the mayor of Dobrich, Ms Petkova her deputy and Ms Milkova in charge of EU programmes had obtained a first victory: They have got everybody on board for their initiative.

Sebastian Sperber