Nice, showcase of municipal security

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At a time when the trial of the July 14, 2016 attack on the Promenade des Anglais is being held, Nice is continuing its security experiments.

From our special correspondent in Nice,

Six years after the attack that killed 86 people and injured more than 450, the Prom’ has been transformed. Four kilometers of security bollards and steel ropes run along the mythical avenue bordering the sea, preventing any new ram-truck attack. Only authorized vehicles can cross retractable bollards, controlled from the urban supervision center (CSU) of the municipal police, to access the sidewalk. To this metal and reinforced concrete fence was added another, natural one, consisting of 400 palm trees. Total cost of the operation: 6 million euros.

After the attacks of November 13, 2015 in Paris and Saint-Denis, the City had already installed “anti-Bataclan” boxes in places open to the public, directly connected to the CSU. This system provided in the event of an attack or hostage-taking has since been extended to businesses. Geolocatable and equipped with a listening system, it allows operators to point city cameras at the place where the alert was given and to send municipal or national police there depending on the nature of the danger. ” We encourage all merchants to obtain them, informs Jean-Pierre Lellouche, president of the Federation of merchants and craftsmen of Nice. It is an additional insurance to be able to live quietly. »

Since there was no question of stopping on such a good path, the municipality began in 2019 to deploy emergency call terminals on the same model as these alert boxes. Three years later, Nice has 243 scattered in the city center, as well as in front of every school and place of worship. ” This allows the police to be notified more quickly than by telephone “, boasts Grégory Pezet, head of the operational command center of the national police. In October 2020, it was from one of these terminals that was reported the attack on the Basilica of Our Lady of the Assumptionallowing the immediate intervention of municipal police and the neutralization of the assailant.

The eyes of the city

The CSU, where these calls are received, is the nerve center of security in Nice. Inaugurated in 2010, it is a model of its kind. People even come from the United States to visit it. From the outside, however, nothing allows us to imagine the place where we are about to set foot. It is accessed by an austere corridor, on the third floor of a neoclassical building. Inside, an action movie set, atmosphere Homeland. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, 90 agents monitor the city thanks to some 4,000 cameras that criss-cross it. To each his own sector. Sitting in the dark facing a huge wall of screens, they observe traffic, track violations and support their colleagues in the field. ” This will allow the crew to intervene in complete safety and to be guided if, for example, they are looking for a fleeing person or vehicle. “, explains Grégory Pezet. Two other rooms are dedicated to the surveillance of transport and schools. The images, kept for ten days, can be provided to the police or the gendarmerie for investigation purposes.

Since the pre-war period, Nice has had a strong sense of security, recalls Henri Busquet, secretary of the local section of the League of Human Rights. This can be explained by the age of its population and the fact that the city depends a lot on tourism “. Sixty years after having a municipal police force, the city anchored on the right is the first in France in terms of police personnel and video surveillance – or video protection, it depends. Since the arrival of Christian Estrosi at the town hall in 2008, the number of cameras has almost increased twentyfold. The seaside town now has one for every 87 inhabitants.

They are found perched on the corners of buildings, nestled on top of lampposts, painted brown to blend in with the trees. There are fixed cameras that monitor a specific point; dome cameras, capable of zooming and maneuvering to have a 360-degree view; the “quadra domes”, equipped with a mobile camera and four fixed lenses. Not to mention the thirty autonomous “nomadic” cameras, powered by solar energy and connected to the 4G network, which can be moved as needed.

A contested efficiency

Most of the people of Nice interviewed say they are reassured by this discreet omnipresence. ” Everyone complains about them when it’s to verbalize badly parked vehicles, but we’re very happy when they make it possible to find delinquents or criminals remarks Laurent, met on the Promenade des Anglais. Do they really allow it? ” No overall correlation has been found between the existence of video protection devices and the level of crime committed on the public highway, or even the rates of elucidation. “, indicates the Court of Auditors in an October 2020 report on municipal police in France.

A study commissioned by the national gendarmerie and published last year is more critical. It reveals that out of some 2,000 investigations observed, only 1.13% to have been elucidated were able to benefit from the use of public cameras. The effects are equally meager in terms of deterrence. The study does not find no significant decrease in the volume of offenses recorded after the installation of cameras on two control sites. She also doesn’t notice any ” lower volumes or more favorable trends in violation levels » on the territories already equipped. ” Video surveillance often leads to a simple displacement of delinquency “, already indicated the researcher Laurent Mucchielli in an interview at Release in 2018.

Nice, for its part, claims a regular increase in the number of arrests carried out in flagrante delicto thanks to the work of the urban supervision centre. More generally, she reports: a constant increase in the rate of elucidation of the facts of crime on the public highway thanks to video protection “: 18% in 2021, compared to 11% in 2015. ” Hardly a day goes by without the public prosecutor calling on video surveillance images from the City of Nice to provide irrefutable evidence for a case. “, we insist at the Town Hall. But at the municipal council, these results leave some circumspect. ” The problem with these assessments is that they are made by those who claim that it is effective, commented Jean-Claude Picard, elected from the Europe Écologie-Les Verts opposition. It is believed that this is not always very impartial. »

In the aftermath of the attack of July 14, 2016, it was in any case quickly noted that the video surveillance had not made it possible to notice the numerous sightings carried out by the assailant Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel aboard his truck. It did not prevent either the attack perpetrated four years later in the basilica of Notre-Dame de l’Assomption. “ Unfortunately, like the State, we do not have the appropriate means to prevent these crimes. Only artificial intelligence can do this “Said Mayor Christian Estrosi in a recent interview with AFP, on the occasion of the opening of the trial of the July 14 attack in Paris.

An open-air laboratory

Coupled with specific software, the electronic eyes of the municipal police can now automatically detect breaches of the Highway Code, count pedestrians, scooters or scooters on a given axis, identify groupings… Nice is experimenting at all costs, even if it means sometimes break their teeth. In 2018, the test of the Israeli application Reporty allowing to film and report crimes in real time to the police was rejected by the Cnil (National Commission for Computing and Freedoms). The following year, that of an emotion detector in the tramway was finally abandoned. In 2019, again, a facial recognition test was conducted during the carnival on a voluntary basis. The Town Hall judged it very satisfactory; the CNIL said it lacked details to give an opinion.

The widespread use of this technology in the public space remains prohibited by law anyway. An aberration for Christian Estrosi, who calls for the overhaul of the legislation. The war on terrorism must be waged with the mobilization of the best technologies », Asserts the city councilor. The incidents at the Stade de France during the last Champions League final and the approach of the 2024 Olympic Games have revived the debate. In the meantime, the Nice municipal police are testing software capable of locating and following a person based on a physical description. ” We are quite skeptical about the effectiveness of all these measures, confides the elected opposition Jean-Claude Picard. This allows for a lot of publicity, but in practice, there is little chance that it will prevent infringements. »

The local section of the League of Human Rights is alarmed for its security headlong rush. ” We went from a few dozen cameras to a few hundred, then to a few thousand. And now, we are at the stage where we put artificial intelligence behind video surveillance. We can see very well what can happen if this system is generalized: we will be able to follow anyone in all their movements through the city “, warns his secretary Henri Busquet. ” If we want to guarantee respect for individual freedoms, we must not allow these tools to develop. Once in place, it’s too late “, he insists.

However, this concern does not seem to resonate with the people of Nice. In 2020, they re-elected their mayor for a third six-year term. By then, a police station supposed to promote better cooperation between the services of the City and the State should have emerged. A first, again.