Friday, 20 April 2012

Litterbugs, look out - you can get caught on camera

40 locations will get surveillance cameras to curb high-rise littering
By Judith Tan, The Straits Times, 19 Apr 2012

NEW surveillance cameras will be installed in 40 locations islandwide to catch high-rise litterbugs in action.

The programme, announced yesterday by the National Environment Agency (NEA), costs $1.4 million and follows a pilot initiative last year.

The high-definition cameras will be mounted from August in areas with persistent high-rise littering, said Mr Tai Ji Choong, director of NEA's environmental public health division.

He did not reveal where these locations are, but said: 'Where the cameras will go are currently based on last year's (litterbug) figures. They may change in the course of this year.'

He added that the cameras were a 'last resort' after educational efforts to 'exert community pressure' had failed.

High-rise littering continues to be a bugbear for the authorities.

Each month, the NEA receives, on average, reports of 100 high-rise littering cases, but has successfully prosecuted only 41 litterbugs in the last 10 years.

Feedback to the NEA on such acts rose almost 18 per cent from 4,449 in 2010 to 5,232 last year.

It is not easy to nab the litterbugs in action. Without the use of cameras, catching high-rise litterbugs has traditionally meant labour-intensive stakeouts lasting several hours, the NEA said.

Last year, 31,126 man hours spent in enforcement stakeouts and community outreach efforts led to the prosecution of only eight people for high-rise littering.

The problem lies in the fact that objects can be hurled from a window or a balcony in a flash, Mr Tai said.

'It takes only a split second for someone to toss a butt or a piece of tissue out the window. Hours of waiting and the manpower deployed would be wasted if that split second was missed,' he added.

Last year, the agency turned to technology for help.

In the pilot project last year, surveillance cameras were installed at 10 locations. Through the use of video analytic software, two offenders were caught on tape.

Hasmin Mohammed Kashim, 29, was caught tossing a cigarette butt from a third-floor flat in Bukit Batok last June. He pleaded guilty on Tuesday and was fined $800.

The second offender will go to court in July.

The pilot project reduced high-rise littering activity in the areas where the cameras were mounted, said the NEA. These included neighbourhoods in Bukit Batok, Jurong West, Chua Chu Kang, Woodlands, Marsiling and Bukit Panjang.

On the new cameras, Mr Tai said residents of affected blocks will be informed prior to the installation.

Addressing concerns about invasion of privacy, he gave the assurance that the cameras will focus on the facade of the block of flats where the suspected activity is. 'It will not zoom into specific apartments, so there will not be any privacy issue involved,' he said.

Officers assessing the footage will have to sign an undertaking that they will not download the footage, or upload it onto any public domain on the Internet.

Singapore Environment Council executive director Jose Raymond welcomed the roll-out of cameras to catch high-rise litterbugs in the act.

He said it was important for Singapore to maintain its reputation as one of the world's cleanest city states.

'NEA's move to roll out the high-definition cameras in hot spots will surely help and, more importantly, deter others from throwing litter out of their windows.'

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