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China city learns from UK about surveillance

B.Y. Wong and John Ruwitch / Reuters | April 10 2006

Shenzhen, the icon of China's economic reforms, is taking a page out of Britain's book and plans to install 200,000 surveillance cameras this year in a bid to lower its soaring crime rate, its mayor said.

The one-time fishing village that has been transformed over the past 25 years into one of China's most important cities has increased the police force by more than 50 percent in the past two years.

Shenzhen has been at the forefront of China's market reforms, but it has also had a negative side -- crime has blossomed and the city has developed a reputation for being chaotic. Reports of robberies, kidnappings, gang violence and other crimes in Shenzhen are not uncommon.

"There is no city in China where public security management is as difficult as in Shenzhen," Mayor Xu Zhongheng told Reuters in an interview at the weekend.

To tackle the problem, the city of more than 11 million people will add 200,000 surveillance cameras this year along major roads, at intersections and in the subway, Xu said. Currently, there are only 20,000 such cameras.

"We are strengthening investment in technology, to use technology to strengthen the control of society and monitoring of public security," he said.

"In this regard we've taken particular note of England, where basically everyone lives under the electronic eye," he said, remarking how important surveillance cameras were in tracking down the perpetrators of attacks on the London transport system last year.

Shenzhen had also added some 6,000 police to the force, bringing the total to near 18,000, he said.

Shenzhen is the busiest entry and exit point in China. Last year, 159 million people left China via Shenzhen -- 55 percent of the national total, Xu said. "This leads to domestic and international criminals picking it as an important passageway," he said.

Furthermore, only about one in seven people who lived in Shenzhen had official residence, or "hukou", in the city. The rest either live there for the medium term or were migrant labourers. In China, the mayor said, that meant a large portion of the population felt less responsible for the city.

Last year, the number of major criminal cases in Shenzhen dropped 31 percent compared with 2004, and amount of roadside theft cases fell 37 percent, Xu said.

One issue he did not address was protests, known as "mass incidents", which have been on the rise in China as it grapples with a widening rich-poor gap, widespread corruption and a increasingly easy communication through mobile phones and the Internet.

Shenzhen has been home to many mass demonstrations, including one in January by thousands of karaoke bar and massage parlour owners and employees who were upset about an anti-vice campaign.

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