In Ramle, Big Brother Isn't Just Watching You - He's Talking to You

Loudspeakers let residents know their misdemeanors aren't going unnoticed.

If you jaywalk or run a red light in Ramle, you may suddenly hear a voice from above scolding you. No, it's not Big Brother or a higher power, but a municipal inspector who's been watching you from city hall.

The Ramle municipality has installed a surveillance system of cameras and speakers that enable inspectors to both track people and address them, in most cases to warn them against doing something illegal. The surveillance system is also working in cooperation with the city hotline.

street - AP - November 10 2010
AP

If the civilian addressed fails to obey the city hall official, inspectors or police officers will be dispatched to the site.

Six loudspeakers were recently installed near the security cameras already situated in various locations around the city, in a bid to reduce crime and vandalism.

The cameras recently caught someone driving a Subaru breaking into a public park. "The inspector called to him: 'Red Subaru, stop,'" said David Haviva, city hotline director. "The driver couldn't figure out where the voice was coming from."

In another case, a resident who was about to spark a barbecue grill on the grass of Ramle's Haganah Park was also reprimanded from "above."

"The people are not alarmed by the voice, but surprised and amused that someone is speaking to them. They look left and right, searching for the source of the sound - and are generally filled with wonder," he said.

During every shift, an inspector is in charge of surveilling the city through the cameras. In the evenings and overnight, he is also responsible for any calls made to the hotline.

Inspectors and other hotline staff members recently underwent training on how to address people. They were instructed to be polite and say "good morning" or "good afternoon," depending on the time of day when they address someone on the city streets.

"The main contribution of the loudspeaker system will be to deter crime and to surprise the perpetrator in real time. He will hear a loud voice saying: 'Sir, we can see you,'" said Ramle Mayor Yoel Lavi.

"This will prevent crime and improve people's personal safety," he said.

The municipality has installed 84 cameras over the past two years in various spots deemed by the city and the police department as prone to violence and vandalism, as part of the "City Without Violence" project. A number of cameras were installed at the entrance to schools, parks and central intersections.

Some 14 acts of vandalism and violence in Ramle are photographed every month and the footage is passed on to the police immediately.

Last month a man was photographed trying to steal a security camera without realizing that his every move was captured on screen. After scaling a nine-meter lamp post he disconnected the camera's electric wire, but when he climbed down police officers were waiting for him on the ground, having received the footage from the city hotline workers.

The Ramle municipality plans to expand the program and install some 40 additional cameras and several more speaker systems to improve residents' safety and step up the fight against crime in city streets. Cameras and speakers will be placed at major intersections, so inspectors and hotline workers will be able to call on people to not park illegally or cross the street when the light is red.