MANILA - A store or office is robbed. The culprit escapes. When investigators arrive, the answers to how the crime was done and who was responsible lie on a bunch of security cameras hanging around the establishment.
But the footage turns out gray and grainy. Lengthy cables add noise lines to the shot. And with the crime done in darkness, the thief is reduced to a shadow.
Senior Insp. Alan Dela Cruz, Quezon City's chief prober of theft and robbery cases, said it's just one of the problems his detectives face.
"If the CCTV's resolution isn't low, more often the camera is broken and useless," he said.
"Others install the cameras as mere displays, a means of complying with the law just to say you have a camera."
For more than half a decade, Quezon City has been requiring business establishments to install security cameras through an ordinance released in 2012.
But this year, the city took it a step further by setting minimum specifications for the CCTV system.
The affected establishments, which range from banks and malls to terminals, schools, and stores in "crime-vulnerable" areas, have to follow suit to get or renew their operating permits.
The rundown of specs is rather technical: at least four cameras with a minimum of 2-megapixel resolution and 0.01 Lux illumination at low-light installed at "places of risk and transaction", including outside the entrances.
The recorders should have high-definition quality recording of at least 720p, and could store video for up to a month.
Establishments are even required to install "dummy" cameras in conspicuous areas that could fool prospective thieves.
The ordinance also mandates business owners to provide police or authorities access upon their request. They are also required to preserve recorded footage for at least a year.
Dela Cruz said it's high time to set these technical specifications.
He added that a number of recent crimes his division solved relied on detailed indoor footage, which supported or contradicted statements of persons of interest.
This included incidents of "hold-up me," where an employee or family member stole items and blamed them on robbers.
Nuances in the subjects' actions are caught or noticed on better-equipped cameras, he said.
Aside from helping solve crimes, the cameras generally also serve as deterrents.
"It's psychological. When bad elements see the cameras, they quickly think they could not easily carry out their crime," Dela Cruz said.
This will admittedly bring more business for CCTV and security suppliers.
But for Marco Mondejar, who owns one supplier, the basic CCTV items in the market are increasingly following the specs laid out in the ordinance, if not exceeding them.
For one, CCTV shops are already phasing out non-HD cameras.
The improvements, Mondejar added, have not even resulted in higher prices since the demand for security cameras is high.
He said that's an incentive for smaller businesses to install their own cameras.
A four-camera and month-long recorder CCTV system would start at P6,000--less than the cause of a decent smartphone.
For those with more buck to spare, higher-end cameras now have features like facial recognition, people count, and tracking of missing or misplaced objects.
Some have built-in light bulbs to enable the feed to remain in color even with the room's lights switched off.
"We still believe price should not be the basis when it comes to safety and security. So we make it affordable for businesses for more of them to avail," Mondejar said.
Still, the police advise against merely installing cameras without strategy.
Dela Cruz suggested placing the camera at the entrance of the establishment at normal height level (between 5'5" and 5'8") for people's faces to be exposed or recognized.
Criminals, he said, could nod or hide under baseball caps to escape the eye of ceiling-based cameras.
With a height-level angle, anyone monitoring the camera could also notice suspects before they could begin their attack.
"It would be too suspicious for anyone entering to continually keep their heads down. With that head time, a guard or staff would have time to secure the establishment," he said.
And that is still how law-enforcers prefer CCTVs to be used, over aiding investigations after the fact: with people regularly monitoring the feeds to notice a crime unfolding and reporting it directly to the police.