“New technologies are interesting for the preservation of public peace” – Interview with Luc Strehaiano

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An interview with Luc Strehaiano, president of the urban community of the Montmorency Valley (Communauté d’agglomération de la vallée de Montmorency, CAVAM). Luc Strehaiano was reelected in the first round for a fourth mandate as Mayor of Soisy-sous-Montmorency, during municipal elections held in France in March 2014. He is also president of the French National Committee on Video Protection (Commission nationale de vidéoprotection, CNV) since 2012.

What role do you think technology should play in urban security?

Luc Strehaiano: Undoubtedly, new technologies are interesting for the preservation of public peace. We should not be dogmatic about this. If we can be more efficient thanks to these technologies, then we must use them. As with any other instrument, they must be used when appropriate. We must be cautious about the material we buy and ensure the whole system performs well. Having good cameras is not enough; good transmission, storage, well trained personnel are also important. It’s important to consider not only the cost of the equipment but also the operating and maintenance costs. New technologies have a lot of potential but they must be used with caution. The exchange of practices as proposed by the FFSU and as we have done at the CAVAM, as part of the workshop on prevention and security of the Ile de France region, is also very important. As regards public peace, there is no “miracle” technology that surpasses all others. Rather, there are a number of techniques that must be coordinated and implemented. A good coordination is key to achieve efficiency.

How do you use these technologies at the CAVAM?

We installed as early as in 2007 the first inter-communal video protection system in France. Indeed, the grouping of communes into an inter-communal body is for us the good level of governance for crime prevention. This way, we are more efficient; we can work in synergy, lower costs (by about 20%) and coordinate actions throughout our territory, which prevents displacement effects. We also have an inter-communal Local Security and Crime Prevention Council (Conseil Local de Sécurité et de Prévention de la Délinquance, CLSPD) that we call “CLSPD-I”. First of all, we considered that video protection could be an answer to the issues we had identified: crime prevention and prevention of reoffending, road safety, security of collective spaces (either public or private), access to law, and support to victims. After, we worked during two years on defining a system that would be adapted to our needs. The original system totalled 95 cameras. There are now 118, and all of them are installed in public spaces. The intercommunal Urban Monitoring Centre (Centre de Supervision urbain, CSU) is at the heart of the scheme. It operates 24/7. The permanent staff is composed of two or three operators who watch the video images and send images in real time to the Departmental Direction for Public Security (Direction départementale de la sécurité publique, DDSP) and police stations. Operators can communicate directly with the police through direct access to the emergency number 17 (for the police) and to the police stations. The effectiveness of our project is linked on the one hand to the management of the service and procedures that were created internally, and on the other on the quality of the work of the 14 operators. Regarding operations, we took great care in the chain of command, from the moment a problematic situation is observed on screen to when the police is put on alert. But video protection is not the only technology we use. CAVAM uses four tools that ensure that police forces are reactive and efficient. There is a communal radio through which all police forces are linked: the municipal intercommunal police, the municipal police of each commune, and the national police. We have a mapping tool that allows us to follow all the events in real time and in space. And we have a geopositioning system that is very useful to manage the resources deployed in any given situation. The advantage of our system is that various sources of information are connected, which makes teamwork easier. This is why received the award for innovation in the public administration and another award for best home security project.

Is social prevention still necessary once a system of this type is installed?

Obviously, the only real prevention is school. It is important that people are socially integrated as early as possible and that everyone has opportunities. In my commune, we spend four million euros a year on education, out of a total budget of €10m. The department of Val d’Oise, where I’m also in charge of security, is one of a small number of departments that support prevention by financing specialised educators. There are 44 of them.

What new trends do you see in the use of security and surveillance technologies?

Systems are becoming intelligence. For example, artificial intelligence allows systems to carry out tedious tasks such as identifying vehicles or wanted persons. Automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) is a good example of technology that has proved successful on the ground. There is currently much talk about the automatic analysis of images. This technology will increase significantly the effectiveness of video protection if it helps identifying dangerous situations or wanted persons. Such intelligent video protect systems may not be yet reliable enough to be used on a large scale in public spaces, but it’s probably only a question of time. As is the case each time a new technology is introduced, it is important to think now about how it will be managed in order to prevent abuse. For example regarding drones, the problem is not so much in the use public authorities make of them, such as monitoring demonstrations, but rather massive use by private actors that are difficult to detect and identify. In the area of video protection, we have now a body of regulations that protect citizens’ rights and in which they trust (use of personal data only by operators under oath, blurring of images of private areas, etc). The CAVAM also has an ethics committee. As regards the use of technologies yet to be developed, it will be necessary to find a good balance.

You are also president of the National Committee on Video Protection. What is your mission in this committee?

The law says that the National Committee on Video Protection provides advice and evaluation on the effectiveness of video protection, and can publish recommendations about the characteristics, functioning and use of video protection schemes. As president of this committee, my responsibility is to lead actions that comply with these prerogatives, either by convening the members, or by personally taking part in analyses or awareness campaigns on a number of themes that have been identified as important. The committee works on four major areas: contribution to the evaluation of video protection systems; improvement of the professional training of operators; identification of good practices by departmental committees, and reduction of costs for local authorities. For example, I was recently auditioned by the parliamentary commission on the fight against insecurity (mission d’information parlementaire sur la lutte contre l’insécurité sur le territoire) and I will see them again soon to suggest some avenues worth exploring.

Precisely, one of the problems that are often mentioned about video protection is evaluation. How to evaluate its efficiency and effectiveness?

Evaluation is necessary in any public policy; no matter what area it covers. According to numerous studies carried out in France and elsewhere, it seems difficult to evaluate video protection as a whole. It is more interesting to evaluate each individual scheme according to its environment and specific objectives. The National Committee on Video Protection is involved in a study by the Ministry of the Interior, the aim of which is to propose a methodology that can be used by different types of system managers for the evaluation of their system. This is a good and wise move. At the CAVAM, we review regularly our system to see if any improvement is needed. What is really interesting is the impact on crime. It is difficult to demonstrate direct causal links, but numbers show that crime in general decreased by 14% and that crime-solving rate increased by 25%. The results are even more striking in the category of crime in public places, which is the main target of video protection: crime decreased by 26% and crime-solving rate increased by 23%. Some offences such as mugging or vandalism decreased by respectively 57% and 40%. It seems that our system is producing the desired effect.

What can be done to give the best training to operators?

The training of operators is essential. Video protection can only produce the best results if operators, whether they are actively monitoring images at the Urban Monitoring Centre or on a dedicated PC, are fully aware of their mission and are part of a global prevention and security chain, along with security services, and as such, strive for total cooperation. Furthermore, respecting deontology is inherently part of the reliability of this technology. The question of the status of the staff must be asked and dealt with. Regarding training, this is a decision that has to be taken by the local authority or enterprise. In the best cases, cities such as Lyon, Strasbourg, Montpellier, Orléans and the CAVAM chose to invest in training operators and have training modules of duration of one to four weeks. When it deployed its system, the CAVA set up an initial training programme of 150 hours and six modules, and also set up further training. The Urban Monitoring Centre of the CAVAM also put in place a training-monitoring centre. When operators are well trained, when their job is valued and when they are fully integrated in the security and prevention chain, they tend to stay at their job. Ten of the 14 operators of the Urban Monitoring Centre of the CAVAM were part of the original team. The objective of the training is to raise awareness among operators on the risks linked to the use of video protection, in particular regarding public liberties, to ensure that technological tools are used as they should be, and to be able to evaluate if video protection is the adequate choice for reducing or prevention crime. The training programme is created on the basis of a number of specifications. It encompasses the legal and social context of video protection, the mechanisms of the system, and the professional environment of the system as well as the partners. I communicate a lot about this in order to raise awareness among system managers. I have a number of proposals to make, taking into account obviously the financial aspect of these training programmes.

What would be the main advice you would give other local authorities?

Let’s be clear. You won’t solve your problems without support. It is important to rally all relevant parties around a policy. If you manage to rally people to your cause, if everyone gives their best, then your policy will be successful.