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Leslie Gilmour

Do CCTV Cameras Reduce Crime?

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Following on from my last post asking the question - Do CCTV Cameras Make Us Feel Safer, I decided to do some research on their actual effectiveness.

Governments are now spending millions of dollars on closed-circuit television (CCTV) systems with the interest of reducing crime rates. The idea is to use these monitoring systems to identify potential perpetrators. It is also intended to deter criminals from committing crimes with the sight of cameras recording every scene. Despite most governments’ stand defending this spending as a necessity for public order, researchers do not seem to support this perception. (note the follow does not alway apply to remote CCTV monitoring that is live warning enabled)

Doubts on CCTV’s ability to lessen crime frequency are now spreading as studies on CCTV effectiveness increase in numbers. In 2015, Lincoln’s Police Chief said their department did not see any significant contribution of CCTV’s to their overall effort of stemming criminal activities in the city. Even after incorporating this surveillance system to their police activities, the number of assaults in the city still remained on par with their five (5) year average. The National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders (NARCO), claimed that although well-planned CCTV can definitely contribute in crime prevention its effectiveness is often overstated. 

In 2013 an opinion piece of the Chicago Tribune quoted a city spokesman who claimed that the surveillance system helped the city solve 4,500 crimes over four years. The Chicago Tribune writer, however, was able to note that more than a million crimes have been estimated to have taken place within that period. Which means that the systems’ contribution at best was just around 0.05%. A study by NARCO featured an evaluation of 24 CCTV systems in housing estates, town centers, public transport, and car parks. Only thirteen (13) of the CCTV systems resulted in a significant drop in crime. Seven (7) of them showed no effect while the remaining four (4) resulted in a significant rise in crime rates. There is even evidence that pointed out that the biggest falls in crime linked to CCTV happened before the cameras were operational.

Also according to a review from the British Home Office, CCTV had only shown a negligible four (4) percent decrease in crime. Some areas in Glasgow, Scotland even had a nine (9) percent crime rate increased after the cameras were installed. These monitoring systems also have the tendency to cause unintended results. One of these unintended results is what is now called the “displacement effect”. This when the heightened security of an area caused by CCTV presence moves the criminal activities to areas with less remote surveillance. This, therefore, offsets the lowered crime rate in a certain location. 

One of biggest concerns apart from CCTV’s seemingly underwhelming contribution to crime prevention is its cost. NARCO claims that despite the government and public’s support in increasing CCTV capabilities, there is still no substantive and quality evidence that supports the measure’s efficiency. Around 1996 to 1998, CCTV took three-quarters of the Home Office Crime Prevention budget. NARCO’s expressed its concern that we may have just been preferring CCTV to other more cost-efficient measures like proper street lighting. Rachel Armitage, of NARCOs’ crime and social policy unit, claimed that an adequately lit street is safer than a dark alley monitored by CCTV. NARCO cautioned that we may be over-investing in the cameras. This investment could be shifted to more effective measures. According to NARCO streetlights might be four (4) times as good in deterring criminals as CCTV. In addition, the said organization claims that the main reason why people like having CCTV is that the police endorses this system. The greater security is, therefore, a mere state of mind. It is also expected to die down without the constant CCTV system publicity that fuels its popularity.

CCTV systems also worry some people as it affects privacy to a certain degree. Cameras don’t just record criminals, they record everyone’s activities. Not everyone is comfortable with the government having a “god’s eye system” that’s capable of documenting its citizens’ personal events. For some, having to experience the inconvenience of cameras monitoring them would not worth it if does not deliver on lowering crime rates. 

Despite all of these concerns on CCTV monitoring, a significant number of people are still insisting that the surveillance system is a necessity in implementing law and order. While its effectiveness in deterring crimes is currently in question, people still put a lot of trust in its capability to document situations. Having records on situations gives law enforcers’ advantage in tracking down assailants. 

Some argue that CCTV’s effectiveness in deterring crimes should be expected as the main advantage of installing cameras is not being able to stop crimes. It is for the user to be able to solve crimes. With this said, its level of contribution to law and order should be dependent on the effectivity of how the system is being used. Since technology needs to be applied appropriately to situations, we should focus on effective surveillance practices instead of declaring cameras impractical. 

Some also argue that measuring police surveillance is a complicated process as there could be a lot of factors involved in the increase or decrease in the crime rates. The increase in crime occurrences in areas with CCTV might have been caused by the surge in the number of documented criminal activities captured by the surveillance system. A number of vague variables like the one mentioned affecting the credibility of the previous studies. The Home Office Research Group in the United Kingdom was even reported to have discarded twenty-four (24) evaluations from Europe and North America because they identified errors in their methods. 

With these complications and varying opinions, it is high time that we do more studies on our surveillance systems. We should work on identifying gray areas that might have been overlooked in the previous evaluations. Additional assessments could also contribute as their results may act as additional evidence on CCTV’s underwhelming effectiveness. The Home Office and the Department for Transport, Local Government and Regions have been committed to commissioning in-depth studies that are designed to effectively assess the cameras’ contribution on implementing law and order. The surveillance system’s cost-effectiveness is also being reviewed.

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Leslie Gilmour

Are CCTV Cameras Making Us Feel Any Safer?

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In this day and age it seems like you can’t go anywhere without being watched.  Whether it is through private video surveillance or government run CCTV cameras; someone is always seemingly watching your ever move.  While many of these security devices are meant to help keep you safe, it does raise a great deal of new questions.  One of the biggest things people are wondering is whether or not the extra added security actually makes them feel any safer.  On top of that, it is a concern that this unknown safety is not worth the violation of personal privacy. 

Why Do We Have CCTV Cameras?

Government surveillance in the UK has been around for decades.  It first dates back to the after WWII when tensions were high and so was the need for added security.  Ever since the birth of the digital age, these surveillance techniques only grew and became more invasive.  These days you can’t turn a corner without seeing a CCTV camera high above your head watching your ever step.  By 2011 there was an estimation that there were over 1.8 million forms of public surveillance which includes CCTV cameras located throughout the UK alone.  Since then, that number has only grown which raises the question; why the need?

CCTV cameras are meant to record all activities while also are meant to be used a police and government tool to screen for suspicious behavior.  Along with the screening process, police teams also use the CCTV feed to identify crime and criminals and often times will release that information to public in order to get a positive identification or more information on a crime.  While helping to prevent crime and bigger national problems is a big deal, it doesn’t always help to bring any relief to the citizens.

Public View on CCTV Cameras

When it comes to CCTV cameras and public opinion, the feelings are mixed.  Some people appreciate that this type of video surveillance will help to solves crime and that gives them a certain sense of security when it comes to their safety.  Other people feel that this is just another excuse for government to get involved in their personal day to day lives.  The one thing that most people can agree on is that whichever sides people stand on, they feel extremely strong about their personal views.

The citizens who tend to stand against public surveillance are valid in these feelings.  How far is too far?  It isn’t only CCTV cameras that are used these days which gives weight to the fears of the public.  Many CCTV cameras have been fitted with microphone devices now which mean that not only are people monitoring your movements, but your conversations as well.  It is also known that government can now also use other means of monitoring such as recording cell phone conversations and emails, so there really seems like there is no fine line left when it comes to safety and privacy.

Do CCTV Cameras Prevent Crime?

When it comes to crime prevention, it is unclear about whether or not CCTV cameras do the job correctly.  It seems that they work well in the aftermath of a crime when they need to make an ID or gather information, but actual crime prevention is a whole different study itself.  This is because not all CCTV cameras are live feeds meaning that in order to do surveillance, the person monitoring would have to know a specific date and time stamp in order to find the incident, but what about the live feed?  The live feed cameras can work to spot suspicious behavior which can help to prevent a crime from taking place but it takes a trained eye to do so. 

It also should be said that the appearance of CCTV cameras has not worked to deter criminals the way police would have hoped.   If anything, CCTV cameras have made criminals smarter and help them learn how to be cleverer in order to evade surveillance.  This is one of the reasons why many people don’t actually feel like CCTV cameras make them feel any safer.  There is still plenty of speculation and debate on this matter even though police and government claim that CCTV cameras have led to more than 4000 arrests in four years alone, yet is unclear about how many of those arrests led to convictions and how many were a direct result of public surveillance.

One of the biggest concerns that private citizens have when it comes to CCTV monitoring is when does it stop being about crime and become about control?  There have been reports of CCTV cameras now being able to cite you for smaller crimes like jay walking and littering.  While you should try to never break the law, is it an abuse of power for the government to use monitoring for seemingly trivial acts?  That is a question that one must ask them before deciding if CCTV cameras are put in place for the best interest of the community.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately we have come to terms with whether or not we feel comfortable being monitored continuously.  Do we feel safer or do we want to grasp tightly to whatever privacy we may have left.  We also need to wonder what direction all of this monitoring is taking us in.  Will we ever be able to live as private citizens and have our business be just ours?  More importantly, is the government feeding off of public fear as an excuse to keep tabs on our every move?  One thing is for sure, the conversation of whether or not CCTV cameras make us feel any safer is a conversation that doesn’t seem to be ending soon.  With so many questions left unanswered there is so much uncertainty about the future of public surveillance. 

At the end of the day is comes to public and personal opinion.  If CCTV cameras make you feel safer knowing that there is always a watchful eye in the sky, then keep on living your life.  If you worry that government involvement is becoming too overwhelming, keep asking the tough questions while continuing to exercise reasonable caution.  You never know who is watching.  Take care.

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