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Eyes everywhere but no-one’s seeing anything

There was an interesting story on the BBC News website yesterday which says that with over a million CCTV surveillance cameras in London, only one in a thousand actually helps solve a crime.

The Opposition have been quick to point fingers – shadow home secretary David Davis MP has said that “CCTV leads to massive expense and minimum effectiveness.” (Not something his party were renowned for saying when CCTV was hailed as the way forward in a (Conservative) Government report in 1994. Is he admitting the Tories got it wrong back then?)

The police have been measured in their response. Although they point to the help that CCTV has given in murder investigations (in over 70% of cases), they admit that better use could be made of the information gathered.

But the silliest response came from the Home Office, which said that CCTV cameras “help communities feel safer”. If they’re not helping the police catch criminals, then isn’t that simply lulling communities into a false sense of security?

2 Comments

Buddyboy 03-10-2009, 23:47

Crime used to be measured in simple numbers. How many crimes were committed? That gave way to perception of crime. How safe does the community feel? Perception has become as important as reality, and understandably so. If a community feels so unsafe that they don’t venture out on the streets, what good are low crime statistics? CCTV cameras fall into this area of perceived safety. If they genuinely make people feel safer, they could be a sound investment. It’s a bonus rather than a prerequisite if they also actually drive down the numbers of crimes committed.

There is another side to the issue. If the number of crimes being committed goes down, does it matter if the presence of these cameras is instrumental in catching or convicting anyone? Of course, falling crime rates still begs the question of whether the fall is in any way attributable to the presence of the cameras. Then again, and there is always another side of the coin, if crime is going up, perhaps the presence of the cameras has caused the rise in crime to be less than it otherwise would have been.

Since there are so many variables and so many ways to interpret them, it should boil down to one simple question. Does the presence of these CCTV cameras make the public feel safer to an extent commensurate with their overall cost? If it does, they are worth it.

Chris Green 11-12-2009, 07:20

It’s not always catching criminals that proves the benefit of CCTV. We suffered petty crime and grafitti outside our premises until we installed dummy cameras. Those persons considering their crime are savvy to cameras and avoid them.
Incidentally, we have for many years played (un)popular classical music in the toilets provided for our customers. Result: Vandalism stopped completely. The yobs do not dally in such a hostile environment. Vivaldi rules OK!

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