DUBAI The last moments of the Hamas official Mahmoud al Mabhouh, who was murdered a year ago today, were captured on video by Dubai’s sophisticated CCTV network.
At the time, police said they were able to identify the Mossad death squad behind the murder by analysing 1,700 hours of film footage, and attributed their success in the case to the heavy presence of cameras in the emirate.
There are 25,000 security cameras in Dubai, watching over the city and its estimated 60,000 buildings.
It is not known how many of those cameras are directly linked to the police’s central operations room, but the 3,000 cameras in Dubai International Airport – which played an essential role in identifying the assassination squad – are all part of the live stream monitored by the police 24 hours a day at the Command and Control Centre.
Colonel Omar al Shamsi, the head of the centre, describes the operation room as the spine of the police force.
“Decision makers sit here to evaluate any emergency situation,” said Col al Shamsi.
The centre is connected to all police resources – including ambulance services, the rescue department, criminal investigation units, riot police and police air response teams.
The centre monitors live streams from cameras in malls, as well as those installed at strategic points across the city.
Around 70 officers are on duty around the clock to handle and respond to the 8,000 to 10,000 calls the centre receives on an average day. The Command and Control Centre’s main monitoring room is oval in shape; rows of workstations are arranged around a video wall, giving all personnel a clear view.
The centre’s central video screen, the heart of the endeavour, measures 4m by 14m and can be subdivided to air as many as 40 different feeds at one time.
The emirate is divided into 7km squares, and police patrols are stationed so that they can reach any point in their square within 7 minutes.
The operation room uses special software that is designed to facilitate communication between the centre’s different sections.
Officers from the Criminal Investigation Department are also assigned to the centre, and they are able to remotely control cameras and track a suspect’s movement and actions.
Col al Shamsi says that not all cameras in Dubai are linked to the operation room – cameras in hotels, private establishments and most tourist attractions remain independent.
“With regard to these places, we get involved only so far as to say where the cameras should be positioned from a security perspective. And we only request access to footage in the case of a crime, after obtaining legal permission from the public prosecutor. This is what happened in our investigation of the Al Mabhouh case,” said Col al Shamsi.
The heavy presence of cameras has, naturally, raised concerns about privacy, but Col al Shamsi insists the centre respects privacy and says there are regulations in place to ensure that.
“People’s secrets and privacy is a red line which we do not cross; our priority remains to save lives,” he said.