Video surveillance in Lyon: the critical thesis buried under Gérard Collomb

Sixty, forty-eight, zero cameras? After a shooting targeting the police on Monday, October 25 in La Duchère, the question of the usefulness of video surveillance was once again invited to the public square, with a lot of political communication.

On Tuesday, the mayor of Lyon Grégory Doucet said that 60 cameras were installed in this district in the north-west of Lyon. Quickly corrected by the prefect of the Rhône Pascal Mailhos who explained that there were “zero cameras in the Sakharov sector [où a eu lieu la fusillade, ndlr.], 48 cameras in the larger sector of La Duchère and 60 cameras in the whole of the 9th arrondissement ”. Faced with a Minister of the Interior, Gérald Darmanin, “deploring the lack of cameras in the neighborhood” and calling on him “to get out of his ideology and help the police by putting video protection cameras”, Grégory Doucet pointed out before its “pragmatism”. “We make sure that our video protection system is the best meshed, the best distributed possible”, replied the ecologist councilor.

A funeral for 100,000 €?

But then, effective or not video surveillance? From 2011, the city of Lyon wanted to base its deployment on objective data by offering a three-year fixed-term contract to a doctoral student to “assess the effectiveness, effects and practices of video protection in Lyon” over the period 1999-2010. “. Overall cost of the operation, 36,000 euros per year over three years, including 14,000 euros subsidized by the State. And since ? Nothing.

Contacted in 2020 by Mediacités [relire notre enquête « Dans le Grand Lyon, vidéosurveillance partout, efficacité toujours à démontrer »], the doctoral student preferred to avoid questions about the end of his mission: “I had no more credits and almost non-existent university supervision”. This is confirmed by several sources.

Despite several requests from elected officials in municipal council in April 2016, then in September 2017, the security assistant at the time kicked in touch. “Regarding the thesis, I am sorry, I cannot show it to you as it was not defended, and you understand that the day it is defended, what should happen of here shortly (…) I will of course be happy to meet all the political groups, ”replied Jean-Yves Sécheresse to Nathalie Perrin-Gilbert.

In fact, the former deputy already knew at that point that the project was definitely buried. On the one hand, because the student had already changed his professional path to move towards finance in January 2016. On the other hand, because an 84-page summary report had already been submitted on August 24 of the same year. A document, which, in 2021, was never presented to elected officials in Lyon despite more than 100,000 € of public money invested, and that Mediacité has finally obtained.

“It’s false, we didn’t want to bury this work (…) I never hid anything. “

While they are not directly opposed to the installation of cameras, this work draws up a very measured inventory of the usefulness of these devices. Flats freshly received by the majority of Gérard Collomb who, as we wrote last year, did not seem to want to go further in the research. What Jean-Yves Sécheresse refutes today: “It’s false, we did not want to bury this work at all, the elected officials even paraded in my office so that I present the summary to them. The work of the young man was also rather good but lack of university support he could not continue. I have a bad temper but I have never hidden anything. ”

Contacted the former municipal councilor Étienne Tête, then a member of the ethics college on video surveillance, and who had requested the restitution of the work in early 2016, assures him that he never had this document.

La Duchère, “videoprotected” since 2001

In Lyon, the Duchère plateau was the first to be equipped with video surveillance cameras. In 1999, the municipality of Raymond Barre decided to install 11 cameras there, already to fight against “traffic problems”, writes the summary report. The project materialized in 2001.

In 2009, Gérard Collomb provided the district with 13 new cameras, this time in the Safeguard sector. Finally, the Duchère was the subject of the deployment of 38 new cameras in the Château sector in 2015, again to fight against “drug trafficking problems”.

But having cameras is not enough if they are seldom used. According to the report submitted in 2016, the cameras of the Duchère represented 7% of those of the municipality for only 2% of the uses. “At night, the North and Center Presqu’île sectors, and Old Lyon, concentrate the most attention on the part of operators. They are known as being the heart of Lyon’s nocturnal activity, with the presence of night establishments, ”writes the author. In 96 hours of observation at the PC security by the doctoral student, only one fact “in the process of being committed” is visualized at La Duchère: a problem of occupation of public space.

In this context, it is difficult to conclude that video protection is effective, he analyzes: “Presqu’île, Duchère, Vieux-Lyon, Part-Dieu, Gerland, etc. Through the presence of cameras, but also thanks to multiple urban planning, social or security actions, all these areas of establishment have experienced significant changes in the uses and practices of the places. (…) It would therefore be, from my point of view, impossible to determine to what extent video protection has played a driving or secondary role in the observed evolution ”.

Person behind the screen

In his synthesis, the author compiled the pre-existing studies on the effectiveness of video surveillance. Out of twenty-two studies evaluated, ten report a significant impact on “crime”, eleven a “negative, zero or uncertain” effect and one study considers “that the two effects, positive and negative, are observable” . Difficult to bring out anything.

During his observations, the researcher found that the attention demanded of every municipal employee has grown over the years. In 2001 an operator had 4.2 cameras to his charge against 15.5 in 2015. In this context, it is difficult to scrutinize everything.

Worse, sometimes no one looks at the pictures. “Out of the 96 hours of observation carried out in total in the operating room, for approximately 13 hours, or 14% of the time, no operator was present in front of the screens to monitor the various sectors, the latter having been occupied with the performing other tasks. “. From a live observation tool, the camera has in fact quite quickly become an a posteriori viewing tool.

No more efficient than human resources

More broadly, the author writes that “the fantasy of video protection presented as a miracle tool, forged through American films or series, comes up against the real capacities of the device. For so-called positive searches, the indices extracted by the operators of the recordings are often the result of long and laborious work ”.

But the picture is not so dark, especially during surveys indicates the text. These images, used as evidence, “can serve to confuse the authors and confront them with their testimonies”, but also during “discreet” investigations. “The police officers with the help of the operators take advantage of the remote position offered by the operating room to accumulate the evidence of the offense justifying the arrest, and to ensure by series of photos of the faces of a future identification of the authors ”, writes the researcher. Even if “this type of very thorough investigation by means of video protection seems reserved for cases of great importance such as assaults on people. “

Regarding the offenses observed live by the agents, less than half are followed by an intervention on the ground by the national or municipal police, assesses the study. Thus the author concludes: “All these investigations carried out with the assistance of video protection would perhaps obtain the same success without the presence of cameras, but with the deployment of more important personnel in the field and the use of techniques of. conventional surveys more costly in terms of time. The argument of saving human resources and time brought by video protection to investigators surely takes priority over that of efficiency ”.