Mumbai Police is finding it hard to crack crimes at night, here's why

Nov 08, 2018, 11:01 IST | Diwakar Sharma

Crimes at night are becoming difficult to crack as number plates are washed out in CCTV footage by the strong headlights and tail lights

Mumbai Police is finding it hard to crack crimes at night, here's why
Since the camera was blinded by lights, Powai police were unable to identify truck (circled) responsible for a hit-and-run in September

Come nighttime, and most of Mumbai's CCTV cameras are no better than a deer caught in the headlights. As soon as motorists switch on their headlamps or backlights, the cameras are blinded by the light. Thanks to this, city cops are having trouble solving night crimes, even those that have been captured on camera, since the image quality is very poor.

"The surveillance of vehicles is a big challenge when their headlamp or backlight is switched on, since the image noise [glare] foils the footage quality," said a police officer. Sharp-eyed detection teams of the Mumbai police instead try to solve night crimes based on a few "recognisable features" of vehicles captured in the CCTV footage.

Cameras go night blind
Many detection officers said the surveillance quality becomes disastrous at intersections, where multiple headlamps from oncoming automobiles hamper the camera's vision.  "This is the reason offences committed at night are either detected late or remain unsolved," lamented another cop.

Some cameras have Automatic Number Plate Recognition, but more such devices are required
Some cameras have Automatic Number Plate Recognition, but more such devices are required

Many DCP-rank officers confirmed that they have been facing such issues for years. They also raised another issue: pixelation of images. "If we zoom in on a distant vehicle, the image pixelates," said an officer, while emphasising that not all CCTV cameras are the same. "There are a few that can zoom upto 10X," he added.

A traffic cop said, "There are a few night vision cameras that capture the number plates of speeding vehicles clearly at night. At a few important junctions, we have also installed revolving cameras." The most advanced CCTV cameras are at the Bandra Worli Sea Link where, a senior officer said, 88 surveillance lenses are equipped with night vision. They can zoom into vehicles 2 km away, and automatically cut out the glare.

Solutions
Many officers hope that this issue will be addressed in the proposed project to add another 5,000 cameras to the city's CCTV network. A detection officer said, "The quality of CCTV image becomes superior if light is directed towards the subject and not at the camera. Alternatively, if the surveillance lenses are mounted at a higher level, the high beam from vehicles might not disturb the footage."

A fortnight later, the crime branch identified the truck from CCTV footage taken minutes before the accident, while there was still daylight
A fortnight later, the crime branch identified the truck from CCTV footage taken minutes before the accident, while there was still daylight

Placing the cameras higher will also help with another surveillance issue this paper had reported last week — the Metro barricades. On November 4, mid-day had reported that the tall barricades were restricting CCTV cameras' field of vision across the city (front-page report, 'Metro work is nuisance for police too').

Another cop suggested that the state bring in more advanced devices, such as Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras, that make detection much simpler. Amitesh Kumar, joint commissioner of traffic police, said, "Automatic Number Plate Recognition cameras have been installed at various strategic locations in the city. We change the locations of these ANPR cameras as and when required."

Meanwhile, the police are relying on CCTV footage from shops and residential societies as well. A senior officer from south Bombay said, "We would face issues in detecting house-breaking cases as the intense vehicle lights would wash out the faces of the perpetrators. So we asked all housing societies, as well as shop owners, to install CCTV cameras in their premises. This helped us too."

4,746
No. of existing police CCTV cameras in city

Case studies
Powai hit-and-run: Headlights made it hard to identify the truck that ran over a biker. A fortnight later, the crime branch zeroed in on the accused by checking daytime footage from shortly before the mishap (see pics).

Parle bag-snatching: In September, an elderly couple's bag was snatched by a biker. CCTV footage of the biker's number plate was fuzzy. The case remains unsolved till date.

Colaba molestation: A journalist was groped by bikers in May. Cameras captured the molester but not his license plate. He was caught a week later.

Crawford Market murder: A sex worker was murdered in March. Cops couldn't see the number plate of the taxi in which the killer fled, but recognised the wheel caps on the vehicle. The cabbie led the cops to the killer a week later.

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