A day doesn’t pass without some kind of a crime in Ulaanbaatar as more than half of the Mongolia population resides here in this city of turbulence.

It’s said that more than 1,500 surveillance cameras are installed throughout the city to prevent crimes and illegal activities and track criminals in the occurrence of theft, robbery, assault, murder and every other crime you can think of. However, more than 300 of these surveillance cameras are not working properly, according to the police. A surveillance officer stated that these cameras often lag and break.

At present, surveillance cameras are set up in every district in the capital, except Khan-Uul District. The state and city administrations have been pouring heaps of money into increasing surveillance cameras across the city but these projects are worthless and meaningless if the cameras don’t actually work. Maybe it’s time for the higher-ups to pay more attention to enhancing the quality of cameras and ensuring their proper operations rather than setting up more of these surveillance cameras that break after a while.

Quite a few people said that they let the person who stole their bag, cellphone and other valuables slip by even though they had immediately contacted the police and had been within an area with surveillance camera during the time of the crime. What had happened was that when the police tried to watch the recorded security camera footage, they realized that the surveillance camera had stopped working or wasn’t recording.

Reportedly, only six out of 44 surveillance cameras of the Second Police Department of Bayanzurkh District is operating normally because they don’t have a budget designated for maintenance and repair. To be more specific, the department had to stop monitoring the area as neither the city administration nor the district mayor’s office was willing to pay the usage fee of fiber optic cables. According to a police officer, surveillance cameras are supposed to be cleaned and checked up on once every month or quarter, but funds for such activities haven’t been allocated.

The Second Police Department of Songinokhairkhan District is in charge of 32 surveillance cameras. However, 10 of them aren’t working, according to the police. A company called Mirotech had been selected through tender to install 32 cameras in Songinokhairkhan District, ensure their normal operations, and provide maintenance. Although the project started in 2014, the police started using the cameras from January 2017 due to slow planning and financial problems, explained the surveillance officer.

He said that the cameras offer 360 degree panoramic viewing angle and excellent zooming function but the resolution is relatively poor. He believes that Mirotech “slacked off” while working on the project.

The First Police Department of Chingeltei District has 149 surveillance cameras. Officials underlined that the cameras are prone to lagging and other errors. They said that the company that installed the cameras come at least three to eight days after the police department requests a checkup or maintenance. Video footages are supposed to be kept for a month but currently, the department deletes footages after two weeks, said an officer.

The police commended that surveillance cameras are significant for finding culprits and act as a deterrence to robbers, criminals, petty thieves and unscrupulous elements from indulging in theft, illicit and criminal activities. For instance, the police managed to arrest a robber who mugged a person in Bayangol District with the help of video footages of security cameras. Apparently, the robber was a repeat offender who mugged the director of the Homeowners’ Association of the 6th khoroo in Chingeltei District.

The Ulaanbaatar Police Department stated that it has become harder to make a comparative report about the number of violations and crimes detected through surveillance cameras due to the new Criminal Code and Law on Conflicts, adopted on July 1, 2017. According to the revised legislations, the activities caught on surveillance cameras that used to be considered as a criminal act had been categorized as violation or offense in the revised laws, making it difficult to compare yearly occurrences of each crime and violation.

The Mayor of Chingeltei District declined to talk about how he is managing operational costs of surveillance cameras. A spokesperson for the Chingeltei District Mayor’s Office, on the other hand, stated, “Right now, we have set up 405 cameras in public areas and streets. The district has introduced a new management for ensuring normal operations and services of surveillance cameras. I think around 50 million MNT was approved for increasing street lights and cameras during the 2017 district meeting. Another district meeting will be held on December 4. Funds for setting up cameras and street lights in 2018 will be determined then.”

He added that companies in charge of surveillance camera operations are required to keep cameras working throughout the month.

When enquired about the time it takes for maintenance companies to fix problems with surveillance cameras, Chief of the Regulatory Department of the Ulaanbaatar Police Department, Lieutenant Colonel L.Amarmurun answered, “Devices often malfunction and break. We’re trying to have around 300 cameras fixed.”

He said that 75 million MNT was spent from the city budget to repair surveillance cameras along Peace Avenue and that district mayors are responsible for having cameras fixed with district budgets.

“The necessary infrastructure, power supply and lighting should have been resolved altogether from the start. The yearly expenditure for camera maintenance comes out very high. Companies selected to install surveillance cameras through tender have to manage the maintenance work for the first two to three years. After that, we have no clue about how to pay the maintenance fees. Ideally, districts need to project funds for maintenance works in their annual budget,” L.Amarmurun noted.

Lieutenant Colonel L.Amarmurun was frustrated that district mayor’s offices don’t fix issues with cameras because they don’t have “funds”. He said that cameras that broke last year were fixed in January and February after officials gave some funding in December 2016.

According to L.Amarmurun, surveillance cameras not only allow the police to assign patrol in the most dangerous areas but also can help monitor police officers and ensure that they are fulfilling their duty properly, especially when they patrol bars and pubs. Reportedly, more than 260 crimes and 1,400 violations were discovered via surveillance cameras.

Ulaanbaatar officials recently decided to install 3,000 more surveillance cameras across Ulaanbaatar with financial assistance from China. However, it’s clear that these new and expensive devices will become trash like the other 1,500 cameras already set up throughout the city if funds for its operational costs are not determined. Just as cars become useless without fuel, surveillance cameras become worthless without maintenance. These cameras need financial sources for their operational costs so that it can be regularly tended for and fixed immediately. This way, we can ensure local residents’ wellbeing and safety, prevent potential crimes, and resolve crimes faster.

Moreover, the city set an ambitious goal to quadruple the number of surveillance cameras in Ulaanbaatar to 6,000 by 2020. Each camera costs approximately 2.5 million MNT to five million MNT. Rather than spending such a large sum on buying future trash, the city should use it to find a proper care taker and operator for the existing surveillance cameras in the city.

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