Made in China, Exported to the World: The Surveillance State

“Where there are cameras, they often don’t work,” said Ms. Rueda, 61. Another possibility was simply that no one was watching.

The odds are against Ecuador’s police force. Quito has more than 800 cameras. But during a Times visit, 30 police officers were on duty to check the footage. In their gray building atop the hill, officers spend a few minutes looking at footage from one camera and then switch. Preventing crime is only part of the job. In a control room, dispatchers supported responses to emergency calls.

Most of the time, no one was on the other side of the lens.

It was a reminder that the system, and others like it, are more easily used for snooping than crime prevention. Following someone on the streets requires a small team, while large numbers of well-coordinated police are necessary to stop crime.

Mr. Robayo argued that ECU-911 had been responsible for a major drop in murders and an almost 13 percent drop in crime in 2018 from the previous year. The mere existence of a camera can also have a profound effect, he said.

Many Ecuadoreans agree. Despite Ms. Rueda’s mugging, she has called for the installation of more cameras in El Tejar. The best way to fix the neighborhood’s crime problems is to fix the surveillance system, she said.

The police have told her that the cameras are too expensive for her neighborhood. To that, Ms. Rueda took a fatalistic view.

“It is always the same problem, a budget shortage,” she said. “Only when someone is killed, then the authorities come and say, ‘Now we’re going to do it.’”

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Arturo Torres Ramírez contributed reporting.

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