CCTV footage is probably one of the most powerful crime-fighting tools in Peshawar. The city, its police, government and people have harnessed the technology to track crime, but it has had some other surprising outcomes: people feel safer and surveillance has provided people jobs and income.
“Before the terrorist attack, we would barely sell 100 cameras in a month,” says Adeel, who is a wholesaler. He is referring to the attack on the Army Public School in 2014 when 149 people, including school children, were killed. After it, the government made several security measures compulsory for schools, colleges and universities. In addition to having guards, educational institutions had to have 14-feet boundary walls, three to four feet of barbed wire and deploy CCTV cameras.
They are being bought by offices, schools and government institutions and even people for their homes.
During the general election, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government installed 13,000 of them to monitor sensitive polling stations at a cost of Rs150 million. That’s how big this business is now.
According to an estimate there are at least 40 wholesalers and more than 500 retailers that deal in the equipment that comes from China. Camera cost between Rs1,600 and Rs3,000 and their cable is an additional Rs60 per metre.
“[If you look around], all the big buildings have security cameras now. People are quite content with the results,” says wholesale dealer Sajjad Khan. He claims to have sold more than 10,000.
The traffic police have installed their own cameras on Grand Trunk Road and main University Road.
“We had installed 250 CCTVs at sensitive locations last Muharram,” adds police chief Qazi Jameel.
There was a time when finding the criminal was quite hard, but CCTVs have made it easy now. All Peshawar lacks, for now is a centralized system like the safe city projects in Islamabad and Lahore.
The surveillance cameras are no longer just used by security agencies, even hospitals have them. “We can identify any movement which took place within a month,” says Zulfiqaar Babakhel, the public relations officer of Lady Reading Hospital Peshawar, the largest in the province. The footage is saved on hard disk and the cameras have been installed in all departments. “We can even tell if a staff member is performing their duties or not.”
A major advantage is crime detection, but the cameras help discourage crime too. They also have the effect of making people more aware they are being watched, which has its disadvantages and advantages. Khalid Khan, who works for a private firm, said that the cameras make him feel as if he is being viewed as a threat. “It is awkward as you constantly feel there are eyes following you, and make you feel hesitant,” he said.
Law-enforcement is a fan, however. After any terrorist attack, suspects can be swiftly identified. Within hours, the footage also becomes public and spreads on social media and television channels. This has changed perceptions of criminals and terrorists as CCTV makes it possible to document their actions.
When people view footage of a terrorist attack afterwards, either shared on WhatsApp, social media or television, public opinion is shaped.
A security supervisor in a government department said that people worry less after installing CCTV as they can easily pull footage as evidence. “You have nothing to fear, if you have nothing to hide,” he adds.