Saturday 24 March 2018

Garda 'Big Brother' cameras to identify and track criminals

Frances Fitzgerald at Templemore yesterday Photo: Damian Eagers
Frances Fitzgerald at Templemore yesterday Photo: Damian Eagers

Jim Cusack and Kevin Doyle

CCTV cameras with facial recognition capabilities are to be rolled out across the country as part of a major €200m overhaul of how gardaí tackle crime.

Garda stations are also to be equipped with an 'Enterprise Content Management System', which will allow CCTV to be shared by officers around the country.

The system is part of a major modernisation plan to be outlined by Garda Commissioner Nóirín O'Sullivan today.

The plan includes a €200m upgrade of the force's out-of-date technology and comes after a report from the independent Garda Inspectorate revealed how some Garda computer systems are 30 years out of date.

The new CCTV cameras will be able to identify wanted persons and alert gardaí, meaning that if a suspect for a crime in one area is picked up on CCTV in another, gardaí in both locations will be notified automatically.

Sources said this will work in a similar way to the current alerts gardaí receive when they spot numberplates that have been linked to crimes.

"If it's a recognised face the officer will get the same alerts," a source said. "There are huge advances to be made in this area."

The modernisation plan was agreed last week by Government and is seen as the first major response by the force to bring its technological capabilities up to par with other EU police forces.

It includes upgrading the 'Pulse' (police using leading systems efficiently) computer system. Gardaí say that while certain aspects of Pulse, which was introduced in the early 1990s, are useful, there are parts of the system which they describe as 'prehistoric'.

The upgrading of the core computer systems will allow for the roll-out over the next five years of new onboard computers for Garda cars and allow better surveillance and identification of suspects.

Many gardaí in patrol cars are still relying on calling colleagues back in stations and asking them to access Pulse to check on cars and the identities of suspicious people.

The new technology will also allow for 999 and public calls to stations to be co-ordinated, in what sources say will eventually become one integrated national IT call-handling system.

The modernisation plans will adopt a 'cradle to the grave' style approach to compiling data on criminal activity so that officers can have a single view of every piece of intelligence relating to a case.

"This will address all of the criticisms of various reports about the need for improved governance and upskilling," said a source. "It comes as the force prepares to move into its second century."

The €200m that has been allocated by Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald is the biggest IT investment since Pulse was introduced.

The system took years to roll out and overshot its preliminary budget of less than €30m, eventually costing well over €100m by the time it was rolled out across the country. The Garda's new 'Tetra' radio system took nearly a decade to introduce.

Irish Independent

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