CCTV (Closed Circuit Television) is a
visual surveillance technology
designed for monitoring a variety of environments and activities. CCTV
systems typically involve a fixed (or "dedicated") communications link
between cameras and monitors. In the past decade, the use of CCTV has
grown to unprecedented levels. In Britain between 150 and 300 million
pounds (225 - 450 million dollars) per year is now spent on a
surveillance industry involving an estimated 300,000 cameras Most
British towns and cities are moving to CCTV surveillance of public
areas, housing estates, car parks and public facilities. Growth in the
market is estimated at fifteen to twenty per cent annually.
1/ Many Central Business Districts in
Britain are now covered by
surveillance camera systems involving a linked system of cameras with
full pan, tilt, zoom and infrared capacity. Their use on private
property is also becoming popular. Increasingly, police and local
councils are placing camera systems into housing estates and red light
districts. Residents Associations are independently organizing their
own surveillance initiatives. Tens of thousands of cameras operate in
public places,; in phone booths, vending machines, buses, trains,
taxis, alongside motorways and inside Automatic Teller (Cash) Machines.
The video surveillance boom is likely to extend even inside the home.
Andrew May, Assistant Chief Constable of South Wales, has urged victims
of domestic violence to conceal video cameras in their homes to collect
evidence. The technology is already being used in hospitals to support
covert surveillance of parents suspected of abusing their children. The
limits of CCTV are constantly extended. Originally installed to deter
burglary, assault and car theft, in practice most camera systems have
been used to combat 'anti-social behavior', including many such minor
offenses as littering, urinating in public, traffic violations,
obstruction, drunkenness, and evading meters in town parking lots. They
have also been widely used to intervene in other 'undesirable' behavior
such as underage smoking and a variety of public order transgressions.
Other innovative uses are constantly being discovered.
2/ When combined with observation of
body language, the
cameras are particularly effective in detecting people using marijuana
and other substances. These systems are used increasingly to police
public morals and public order. According to a glossy UK Home Office
promotional booklet, "CCTV : Looking out for you", the technology can
be a solution for such problems as vandalism, drug use, drunkenness,
racial harassment, sexual harassment, loitering and disorderly
3/ CCTV is very quickly becoming an
integral part of crime
control policy, social control theory and 'Community consciousness'. It
is promoted by police and politicians as primary solution for urban
dysfunction. It is no exaggeration to conclude that the technology has
had more of an impact on the evolution of law enforcement policy than
just about any technology initiative in the past two decades. CCTV is a
seductive technology. In a public policy domain which is notoriously
rubbery, CCTV has a solid, "Sexy" and powerful image. It has become an
icon for security and - for politicians - its promotion is guaranteed
to create a feel-good response. When people are frightened of crime and
criminals, critics of CCTV are often portrayed as enemies of the public
interest. While Britain is clearly the lead nation in implementing
CCTV, other countries are quickly following. North America, Australia
and some European countries are installing the cameras in urban
environments which a few years ago would most likely have rejected the
sort of technology is used in CCTV systems?
modern CCTV system involves a linked system of cameras with full pan,
tilt, and zoom able to be operated remotely from a control room. These
systems may involve sophisticated technology. Features can include
night vision, computer assisted operation, and motion detection
facilities which allows the operator to instruct the system to go on
red alert when anything moves in view of the cameras. Camera systems
increasingly employ bullet-proof casing, and automated self defense
mechanisms which - as with the Liverpool system - ensure that cameras
under attack are covered by neighboring cameras These can be
legitimately described as military style systems. The clarity of the
pictures is often excellent, with many systems being able to recognize
a cigarette packet at a hundred metres. The systems can often work in
pitch blackness, bringing images up to daylight level.
CCTV reduce crime?
reports of the effectiveness of CCTV are announced regularly.
Strathclyde police in Scotland recently claimed a 75 per cent drop in
crime following the installation of a £130,000 closed circuit
in Airdrie. Not only are people delighted because they are no longer
afraid to go out shopping, say local police, but even criminals welcome
the chance to prove their innocence by calling on evidence from the
cameras. In King's Lynn, burglary and vandalism in the industrial
estate has dropped to a tiny fraction of its original level. Crime in
car parks has dropped by ninety per cent. People say they feel safer.
Indeed they should. Assaults and other violent crimes appear also to
have been decimated in the center of town. The government believes this
is because CCTV deters 'opportunistic' crime, where people take
advantage of a situation on the spur of the moment. Phillip Edwards
from the Home Office Crime Prevention Unit says the government is using
CCTV as part of a long term plan to reduce overall crime. "Today's
opportunist is tomorrow's professional criminal. If we decrease the
number of opportunities for easy crime, we can reduce the number of
people becoming professional criminals". The logic, and the statistics,
are superficially impressive, but some analysts are not convinced. In a
report to the Scottish Office on the impact of CCTV, Jason Ditton,
Director of the Scottish Centre for Criminology, argued that many
claims of crime reduction are little more than fantasy. "All
(evaluations and statistics) we have seen so far are wholly
unreliable", The British Journal of Criminology went further by
describing the statistics as "....post hoc shoestring efforts by the
untrained and self interested practitioner ".
4/ The crime reduction claims being
made by CCTV proponents
are not convincing. Three recent criminological reports (Home Office,
Scottish Office and Southbank University) have discredited the
conventional wisdom about the cameras effectiveness. In a report to the
Scottish Office on the impact of CCTV, Jason Ditton, Director of the
Scottish Centre for Criminology, argued that the claims of crime
reduction are little more than fantasy. "All (evaluations and
statistics) we have seen so far are wholly unreliable", The British
Journal of Criminology described the statistics as "....post hoc
shoestring efforts by the untrained and self interested practitioner."
In short, the crime statistics are without credibility. The crime
statistics rarely, if ever, reflect the hypothesis that CCTV merely
displaces criminal activity to areas outside the range of the cameras.
One of the features of current surveillance practice is that the
cameras are often installed in high-rent commercial areas. Crime may be
merely pushed from high value commercial areas into low rent
residential areas. Councils often find that it is impossible to resist
demands for such systems. There is an additional element of
displacement that should be of particularly concern to all communities.
Since the growth of CCTV as the primary means of crime prevention, more
traditional, community based measures have been discarded. A Scottish
Centre for Criminology report on CCTV in Airdre was unable to rule out
displacement as a factor.
5/ while various studies in other
countries indicate that
burglars and other criminals will travel long distances to commit
6/ Discussing the justification for
surveillance system of 16 cameras in Manchester, Gordon Conquest,
chairman of the city centre sub committee of Manchester Council,
candidly admitted "No crackdown on crime does more than displace it,
and that's the best we can do at the moment."
7/ The Crime Prevention Unit of the
Home Office appears to
agree. In 1993 it suppressed the findings of a survey on the crime
impact of camera surveillance on the basis that the displacement effect
had been all but ignored. In other words, crime may be merely pushed
from high value commercial areas into low rent residential areas. One
of the features of current surveillance practice is that the cameras
are often installed in high-rent commercial areas. Councils often find
that it is impossible to resist demands for such systems. The trend is
fueled in part by the insurance industry, which in some towns is
offering a thirty per cent reduction in premiums to local retailers who
pay a contribution to a CCTV levy system. A nationwide insurance
discount scheme is currently being negotiated, and should be in place
by 1996. Some police also concede that CCTV displaces crime. Richard
Thomas, Acting Deputy Chief Constable for Gwent, recently told the
BBC's Andrew Neil that he believed CCTV pushed some crime beyond the
range of the cameras.
8/ And in his interview with 20/20,
Leslie Sharp said
"Certainly the crime goes somewhere. I don't believe that just because
you've got cameras in a city center that everyone says 'Oh well, we're
going to give up crime and get a job". The cameras are also creating a
vastly increased rate of conviction after crimes are detected.
Virtually everyone caught committing an offense on camera pleads guilty
nowadays. Once people know they have been videotaped, they admit the
offense immediately. Such is also the case in Newcastle, where the
installation in 1992 of a 16 camera system has resulted in a 100 per
cent incidence of guilty pleas.
9/ Police are delighted at the time
and money they are saving
from long and expensive trials. Some legal experts are a little more
wary of the implications of these results, arguing that - like DNA
evidence - juries can be seduced and defendants intimidated in equal
proportions by evidence that might not normally stand up to scrutiny.
Indeed some districts are now reporting that people are surrendering
after the mere mention in newspaper reports that their alleged
activities had been captured on CCTV.
does the public think of CCTV?
The picture is mixed. While proponents of CCTV are inclined to describe
opposition to the technology as marginal, the reality is much less
conclusive. In one survey commissioned by the UK Home Office a large
proportion of respondents expressed concern about several key aspects
of visual surveillance. The extent of concern was highlighted by the
outcome that more than fifty per cent of people felt neither government
nor private security firms should be allowed to make decisions to allow
the installation of CCTV in public places. 72 per cent agreed "these
cameras could easily be abused and used by the wrong people". 39 per
cent felt that people who are in control of these systems cold not be
"completely trusted to use them only for the public good". 37 per cent
felt that "in the future, cameras will be used by the government to
control people". While this response could be interpreted a number of
ways, it goes to the heart of the privacy and civil rights dilemma.
More than one respondent in ten believed that CCTV cameras should be
11/ Another interesting conclusion of
the Home Office survey
was that 36 per cent of respondents did not agree with the proposition
"the more of these cameras we have, the better". Contrast this with the
view of Leslie Sharp, chief constable for the Scotland's Strathclyde
Police Department. Referring to his forces mania for CCTV he told ABC
news' 20/20 program "We will gradually drive the criminal further and
further away, and eventually I hope to drive them into the sea".
12 The most crucial element of the
Home Office survey was the
conclusion that the public were less inclined to unconditionally
support CCTV once issues were raised and discussed within groups.
1. Davies, S (1996) Big Brother :
Britain's web of surveillance and the
new technological order, Pan Books, London, p. 183. 2. ibid p. 177. 3.
CCTV, Looking out for you, Home Office, London, 1994 p 12. 4. cited in
Davies, S (1996) Big Brother. 5. Ditton, J (1996) Does Closed Circuit
Television Prevent Crime? Scottish Centre for Criminology, HSO
Edinburgh. 6. Gabor, T (1978) "Crime displacement The literature and
strategies for its investigation", Crime and Justice, Vol 6 no. 2
p.105. 7. City life, July 27 1994. 8. Andrew Neil Show, BBC TV, 29 May
1996. 9. ibid p. 11. 10. Dawson T, "Fraing the villains", New
Statesman, 28 January 1994. 11. Honess T, and Charman E (1992) ;
"Closed Circuit Television in public places" Crime Prevention Unit
paper no. 35 London HMSO. 12. ABC News, 20/20, September 7, 1995.