Since the July 7th London bombings, CCTV security systems (closed circuit TV) across the world have been examined with greater scrutiny and with greater expectations for reducing crime. Although not a panacea for preventing crime, many CCTV surveillance systems have been successful at reducing some types of crimes like property crime, for acting as a deterrent in car parks or in other public places, and for making citizens feel safer. However, the results are mixed when addressing violent crimes and when the crimes involve alcohol.
In the UK, where an average person may be watched 300 times a day by the prevalent closed circuit television systems, numerous case studies paired with crime statistics have been used by Britain’s Home Office to determine the effectiveness of these CCTV systems and to see how well CCTV saves time and money for their police force. In fact, from 1999 to 2001, the British government spent £170 million (approximately $250 million) for closed circuit television security schemes in town and in city centers, car parks, crime hot spots and in residential areas.
Keys to evaluating CCTV systems
According to Coretta Philips of the Home Office Policing and Reducing Crime Unit, CCTV systems are evaluated using these identifiers which help police pinpoint where and when the CCTV security camera systems are most beneficial.
o Caught in the act — When potential offenders fear being recorded by the CCTV cameras for courtroom purposes, they usually abandon any idea of conducting a crime.
o Publicity — If the CCTV camera schemes are public knowledge, then the would-be offenders may leave the target area, but may head to another area. Home Office data found that in the days leading up to the CCTV system activation, crime went down due to the increased publicity. However, if the publicity of the CCTV system is private, then offenders may be more likely to be deterred because they may think that CCTV security cameras may monitor other areas as well.
o Effective deployment of law enforcement officers — CCTV systems increase the response time of police officers to the incident scene before a member of public has to call the police. According to data compiled in 2004 by the Home Office, CCTV operators can determine how many officers to send to the scene and the CCTV surveillance cameras can indicate what the offenders are doing at the scene before the police arrive.
o Time for crime — If the offenders think that they can complete their crime before the CCTV systems can record it, then the police will have less chance at capturing the offenders. For example, if car thieves know that the security camera’s angle, range and speed are limited, they might determine how to best avoid the CCTV security cameras. However, the Home Office CCTV data has shown a reduction in car thefts in car parks, revealing that some offenders may still be captured on camera despite the speed of the crime.
Where CCTV systems scored well and where they missed
Although CCTV systems seem to reduce and deter property crime in public areas, such as car parks or shopping malls, CCTV systems aren’t as effective at stopping or preventing violent crimes. Although the CCTV systems do help at deploying police officers quickly to these violent crimes sites, the offenders may avoid the security cameras, since the security cameras are mounted in public zones, where violent crimes don’t take place. In this case, better street lighting may help to prevent such violent crimes from occurring. In addition, when alcohol is involved, the offenders don’t consider the consequences of their actions, making the CCTV systems ineffective as a deterrent amongst the intoxicated offenders.
On a positive note, the CCTV systems do reduce the public’s fear of crime and they do ensure the quick deployment of officers to the incident scene which gives less time for the offenders to act more violently. To truly verify if the CCTV system is effective, the law enforcement body needs to conduct video surveillance evaluations over a long period of time to weed out any inconsistencies in the crime data. Also, if the CCTV operators are well-trained and know the fastest way to deploy the police officers, then the CCTV system will be more effective. CCTV systems are the future for preventing crime, and as the CCTV security cameras become more sophisticated, more offenders will be caught and more crimes will be prevented.
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