JUAREZ, Mexico (Border Report) — Drug cartels for years have used surveillance cameras to monitor the movement of Mexican police.

But now a border city is trying to turn the tables on criminals by installing high-definition cameras with facial recognition and license-plate reading capabilities in public places and the busiest streets.

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The first 190 “smart” cameras are in test mode at undisclosed locations in Juarez. In the next year or so, a network of 1,078 additional devices will be up and running throughout the city, Chihuahua Gov. Javier Corral said.

A Juarez police officer checks reports on stolen cars at the new 911 and Intelligence Center. (photo courtesy State of Chihuahua)

The cameras will be monitored at the new 911 call and Intelligence Center, known as CERI. Police officers equipped with tablets will also access the feed upon request.

“This is an unprecedented project […] Juarez will become one of the most-watched cities” in Latin America, Corral said at a teleconference on Thursday.

Juarez’s new 911 and Intelligence Center, known as CERI. (photo courtesy State of Chihuahua)

The goal is to dissuade criminals from conducting their activities in public places if they know they’re being watched. Juarez recorded nearly 1,500 murders last year and attributed most of them to drug cartel violence. The killings continue unabated, with more than 170 murders reported last month.

The cameras will be mounted atop utility poles. Some will be fixed, some will be able to rotate 360 degrees and some have special features such as the license-plate readers and facial recognition software.

The cameras also will spot stolen cars, which cartel hit squads use, then abandon, when they set off to kill rivals. And if a shooting takes place in the area under surveillance, police will be able to identify suspects and vehicles, Corral said.

“We want to strengthen crime prevention … and to improve investigations with images that can help us reconstruct these acts and see what routes the suspects used to flee,” he said.

The cameras and software cost the state and municipal government $11 million.

Juarez police officers are now equipped with tablets to file reports, receive information on suspects and, soon, to access the new video-camera grid. (photo courtesy City of Juarez)

The governor said CERI officers will also be able to link to the cellphones of people who have video of a crime in progress or a crime they witnessed and recorded.

The center located at one of Juarez’s police substation will be staffed by municipal, state and federal officers.

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