A CCTV system is not a physical barrier. It does not limit access to certain areas, make an object harder to steal, or a person more difficult to assault and rob. This does not mean it is not an example of situational crime prevention. It is highly situational and does have some crime prevention capacity in the right situations. Although CCTV has many functions, the primary preventative utility is to trigger a perceptual mechanism in a potential offender. It seeks to change offender perception so the offender believes if he commits a crime, he will be caught. In other words, CCTV aims to increase the perceived risk of capture, a factor which, assuming the offender is behaving in a rational (or limited rational) manner, will de-motivate the potential offender. For this crime prevention process to succeed, two elements must exist:
- The offender must be aware of the cameras’ presence.
- The offender must believe the cameras present enough risk of capture to negate the rewards of the intended crime.
Consider the first element. If, for example, a CCTV system is initiated to stem a perceived increase in disorder crime in a town centre, the crime prevention mechanism requires that potential offenders know they are being watched. Evidence suggests that even though implementers install a system, have a publicity campaign, and place signage, there is no guarantee the population will be aware of the cameras.
Not only are there limitations with the public’s perception of the location of cameras, the second element (the presence of cameras affecting offenders’ perception of risk) is not guaranteed. In theory, CCTV should provide the capable guardianship necessary to prevent a crime, but this concept requires that offenders demonstrate rationality in their behaviour. There is certainly the suggestion, and some qualitative evidence, that potential offenders who are under the influence of alcohol or drugs may not care or remember that they may be under surveillance. This may be a factor in the reason CCTV appears to be more effective in combating property crime than disorder and violent offenses.
There is a second mechanism whereby CCTV has the potential to reduce crime. The cameras may be able to assist in the detection and arrest of offenders. This crime prevention mechanism requires that police and security service providers can respond in a timely manner to any significant incidents identified by camera operators, and that the local criminal justice system can pursue the offenders’ conviction. This mechanism will work if incarcerated offenders are prevented from committing further crimes within the CCTV area (or other local area). Although there may be some initial crime reduction due to the installation and publicity of a new system, offenders may soon learn what types of incidents elicit a police response and the speed of that response. The availability of local resources is therefore a factor in the success of this mechanism.
The desire to catch an offender in the act is often the rationale behind the placement of hidden cameras. Undoubtedly CCTV evidence is convincing, though CCTV’s ability to reduce overall crime levels through detection (rather than prevention) is less convincing and arguably a less effective way of impacting crime. For this mechanism to be effective, the implementer must believe arrests are the best way to solve a crime problem. There is some evidence from Australia that increasing arrests can have a short-term benefit, but the benefit fades in the long term without a more preventative policy.
An important consideration in the effectiveness of a surveillance technology is the type of crime to be tackled, because this impacts the criminals’ ability to adapt. Although a CCTV system may reduce the likelihood of a burglary at a commercial location within the range of the camera, there is some evidence that drug markets can continue operation in the presence of CCTV by changing their operating practices.
A third, more general mechanism by which CCTV may reduce crime is through an increase in collective efficacy. If residents see CCTV cameras being installed in their neighbourhood, this will signal to them a degree of investment in and efforts to improve their local area. The argument may be that this might lead to greater civic pride and optimism, and, as a result, lead to an increased level of informal social control among the local people. A counter to this argument is that covert cameras may instead lead to a neighbourhood being labelled as high crime, accelerating the process of social disorganization.
Several other benefits, beyond a reduction in crime, may be accrued from a CCTV system, including:
- Reduced fear of crime
- Aid to police investigations
- Provision of medical assistance
- Place management
- Information gathering
- Diffusion of benefits
Reduced Fear of Crime
Numerous studies have tried to determine if the presence of cameras in public places reduces fear of crime in people who use the area. These studies, many of which interviewed people in the CCTV area, have examined whether consumer buying has increased in areas with new CCTV systems. The general argument is that the area will benefit from a positive economic impact when people feel safer. The findings are mixed but generally show there is some reduced level of fear of crime among people in CCTV areas, but only among people who were aware they were in an area under surveillance. Most studies exploring the perception of surveillance areas found that less than half the interviewees were aware they were in a CCTV area. Reduced fear of crime in an area may increase the number of people using the area, hence increasing natural surveillance. It may also encourage people to be more security conscious.
Aid to Police Investigations
Regardless of the potential for a CCTV system to have a role in crime prevention, it can still contribute in a detection role. There are numerous examples of CCTV tapes aiding in an offender’s conviction. Camera footage can also help identify potential witnesses who might not otherwise come forward to police. CCTV camera evidence can be compelling, though issues of image quality are a factor if CCTV images are used for identification purposes. If the cameras record an incident, and police respond rapidly and make an arrest within view of the camera (and the offender does not leave the sight of the camera), the recording of the incident can help investigators gain a conviction, usually through a guilty plea. The potential to assist in police investigations may also drive offenders away from committing offenses that take time, as they run a greater risk of capture.
Provision of Medical Assistance
As a community safety feature, CCTV camera operators can contact medical services if they see people in the street suffering from illness or injury as a result of criminal activity (such as robberies and assaults) or non-crime medical emergencies. The ability to summon assistance is a public safety benefit of CCTV.
CCTV can be used for general location management. The cameras can be used to look for lost children, to monitor traffic flow, public meetings, or demonstrations that may require additional police resources, or to determine if alarms have been activated unnecessarily thus removing the need for a security response.
Although not discussed in the literature of companies that sell cameras, CCTV systems may also have some unintended consequences. These include:
- Increased suspicion or fear of crime, and
- Increased crime reporting.
There are many different types of displacement. Instead of a reduction in offenses, you may see offenders react by moving their offending to a place out of sight of the CCTV cameras. This is an example of spatial displacement. There is usually a net gain for crime prevention. In all the studies evaluated for this report, there is not a single example of a complete displacement of all crime from a CCTV area to a neighbouring area. In the evidence presented here, spatial displacement is not the issue many people think it is, and in most of the studies there is little evidence of spatial displacement.
A CCTV system may also force the criminal fraternity to be more imaginative and to diversify operations. For example, researchers reported that in a London drug market the presence of cameras encouraged the drug market to move to a system where orders were taken by mobile phone and then delivered, and as such “increase the speed and ingenuity of the drug transaction”. This is an example of tactical displacement, where offenders change their modus operandi to continue the same criminal acts. Even though this introduction of CCTV may not be an unqualified success, that the CCTV system forced a change in behaviour is positive. CCTV is likely to have forced drug dealers to adopt a less effective way of conducting business, resulting in a net reduction in crime.
Increased Suspicion or Fear of Crime
A second concern is the possibility of a negative public response to the cameras’ existence. In one survey, one-third of respondents felt that one purpose of CCTV was “to spy on people”. In other surveys, some city managers were reluctant to advertise the cameras or have covert CCTV systems for fear they would make shoppers and consumers more fearful. In other words, it is hoped that most citizens will feel safer under the watchful eye of the cameras, but CCTV may have the reverse effect on some people.
Increased Crime Reporting
A third unintended consequence is the possibility that there will be an increase in recorded crime for some crime types. Many offenses have low reporting rates, especially minor acts of violence, graffiti, and drug offenses. CCTV operators are better placed to spot these offenses, and this can drive up their recorded crime figures. This is a potential outcome, and you may need to prepare other people involved in a future CCTV system of this possibility.
Source: (Ratcliffe 2006) Ratcliffe, J 2006, ‘Video Surveillance of Public Places, blog post, viewed 6 April 2020, READ MORE HERE
Burglaries & Incidents – March 2020
22/03 a house in 2nd avenue was burgled where the thief gained access through an open window and stole only sweets.
11/03 a burglary was reported to our local office in Bettys Bay, a premises in Morea Road was burgled where thieves forced open a window and removed the burglar bars and managed to steal a tv.
23/03 an attempted burglary was reported at a house in Myrica Road upon our arrival at the premises we found that two wooden windows had been forced open, but no access was gained into the premises.
No incidents occurred or reported.
No incidents occurred or reported.
This is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your specialist for specific and detailed advice. (E&OE)