• Center for Problem oriented policing

POP Center Responses Video Surveillance of Public Places, 2nd Ed. Page 6

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Although much of the professional literature from manufacturers tends to over-hype CCTV’s benefits, robust evaluations, where they exist, are apt to be more circumspect. Companies that produce surveillance systems claim unqualified success, while cautious academics often say the opposite.† As noted from one study, “open-street CCTV can ‘work’ in limited ways, but is not a universal panacea. It works in different ways in different situations.”93 The evidence suggests that CCTV works most effectively when bundled with a package of other situational preventative measures.94 That CCTV is often implemented with other measures makes conclusive evidence of CCTV’s effectiveness difficult to confirm.

† The authors of a recent UK Home Office study said “The most obvious conclusion to be drawn from the analysis in this chapter is that CCTV is an ineffective tool if the aim is to reduce overall crime rates and make people feel safer. The CCTV systems installed in 14 areas mostly failed to reduce crime (with a single exception), mostly failed to allay public fear of crime (with three exceptions) and the vast majority of specific aims set for the various CCTV schemes were not achieved. Despite all this we are reluctant to draw the simple conclusion that it failed.” (Gill and Spriggs, 2005, page 61).

Media manipulation may play an important role in advertising a system, help increase public knowledge, and, therefore, reduce fear of crime. It may also inform offenders and increase their risk of perception. Advertising success also helps to maintain offender wariness as well as reinforce feelings of public safety (and the perceived added benefit of economic improvement). 

Conclusions about effectiveness that can be cautiously drawn are: 

  • CCTV works best in small, well-defined sites (for example, public parking areas) rather than across large areas (such as housing estates)
  • CCTV is more effective in combating property crime rather than violence or disorder
  • A close relationship with the police will improve system effectiveness
  • A good quality CCTV system can aid police investigations 

Finally, you should consider the impact of a CCTV system from a societal view. It has been suggested that ever-increasing surveillance can make the local environment a less pleasant place to live.95 Of course, it may also reduce fear of crime and increase public participation in public space. This may be an acceptable benefit from the ongoing costs of a CCTV scheme.

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