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New Report Reveals Impact of CCTV on Crime

Findings of Home Office study by University of Leicester criminologists published today (10am Thursday 24 February).

A Home Office national evaluation of CCTV undertaken by researchers at the University of Leicester and published today (Thursday Jan 24) found that, for the most part, CCTV did not produce reductions in crime and it did not make people feel safer.

Of fourteen systems evaluated, only one showed a decrease in crime which could be attributed to CCTV - and that focussed on reducing vehicle crime in car parks. Now criminologists at the University of Leicester are calling for lessons to be learnt from the study so that CCTV is not seen simply as a technical solution to a problem.

Professor Martin Gill, Professor of Criminology in the Department of Criminology, University of Leicester, led the evaluation of the study. He said:

“For supporters of CCTV these findings are disappointing.

“For the most part CCTV did not produce reductions in crime and it did not make people feel safer. Following the introduction of CCTV, support for its use decreased, not so much because there was a concern about intrusions of privacy but because they did not see cameras as effective. One scheme was very effective in tackling vehicle crime, and there were other successes, not least in bringing more offences to the attention of the police. Overall, areas have encountered real difficulties in using CCTV to good effect.”

Professor Gill, who is director of University of Leicester ‘spin-out’ company, Perpetuity Research and Consultancy International (PRCI), added: “Those who expected that this evaluation would show CCTV to be either an unparalleled success or an affront to a democratic society, will be disappointed.

“The truth is that CCTV is a powerful tool that society is only just beginning to understand. It looks simple to use, but it is not. It has many components, and they can impact in different ways. It is more than just a technical solution; it requires human intervention to work to maximum efficiency and the problems it helps deal with are complex. There needs to be greater recognition that reducing and preventing crime is not easy and that ill-conceived solutions are unlikely to work no matter what the investment.”

The Leicester researchers evaluated 13 Closed Circuit Television Camera (CCTV) projects (comprising fourteen separate systems) implemented in a range of contexts, including town centres, city centres, car parks, hospitals and residential areas. The projects were funded under Phase 2 of the Home Office CCTV Initiative. A main objective was to measure the impact of the CCTV projects on crime and fear of crime.

Specific findings include:

  • Of fourteen systems evaluated, only one showed a decrease in crime which could be attributed to CCTV, and that focussed on reducing vehicle crime in car parks.
  • Knowing that cameras were installed in an area did not necessarily lead to a reinforced feeling of security among respondents.
  • Although there is some evidence that there was a reduction in fear of crime following the installation of CCTV, there is little to suggest that this is attributable to CCTV. It is more likely to have been a reflection of the reduction in the level of reported victimisation within the areas.
  • When questioned beforehand 15% of the public said that they would venture out more once CCTV was installed. The reality was different, in fact much less did so. On the other hand, only 1 per cent of respondents said they avoided places once CCTV had been installed.
  • Some crime types showed an increase following CCTV installation. This sometimes indicated that the presence of CCTV had brought a greater number of crimes to the attention of the police and thus represented a success.
  • The proportion of respondents happy or very happy about having cameras in their area declined in nine areas following their installation; in five of these the reduction was statistically significant.
  • However, the level of support of CCTV remained high at over 70 per cent of the sample in all but one area.
  • Concerns regarding the implication for civil liberties decreased slightly following the implementation of CCTV. Whereas 17 per cent of respondents expressed such concern prior to its installation, this declined from 2 to 7 percentage points across areas once CCTV was installed.
  • In residential areas, the proportion of those who perceived the impact of CCTV to be positive decreased following its installation.
  • Many projects did not have clear objectives. Partly this reflected an uncritical view that CCTV was ‘a good thing’ and that specific objectives were unnecessary.
  • The existence of funding for CCTV created pressure to bid for it, often in the absence of reliable intelligence indicating where CCTV would be likely to have most effect.
  • Some systems failed to engage properly with end-users, most notably the police.
  • A willing project manager was sometimes difficult to find - only five out of thirteen schemes appointed a manager with previous CCTV experience. Lack of interest and lack of knowledge on the part of some project managers compromised the ability of schemes to meet their objectives.
  • As a result of the lack of guidance on how many cameras to bid for, the number and density of cameras varied widely between schemes. However, systems with a high density of cameras did not necessarily produce a greater reduction in crime.
  • Similarly, the level of camera coverage varied. Too little coverage tends to prevent efforts to track offenders for detective and evidential purposes.
  • Some cameras were unable to cope with artificial lighting in the hours of darkness. Residential areas in particular often had inappropriate levels and types of lighting, which led to the cameras being regarded primarily as a deterrent and a reassurance to residents.
  • Control room operation was an important determinant of a CCTV system’s ability to detect crime. The monitoring schedule is certainly an issue here: six of the thirteen control rooms were staffed for less than 24 hours a day.
  • The control rooms relied on intelligence and communication about incidents in progress in order to direct surveillance. In practice, levels of incoming and outgoing communication were low.
  • Images were sometimes extremely useful to the police in their work, helping to identify offenders.

Reports are downloadable: www.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs05/hors292.pdf

NOTE TO NEWSDESK

Professor Martin Gill is contactable on 0774 028 4286 (his office number is 0116 252 5709, but this will change to 0116 222 55 66 from 28-2-05). He is based in offices at 148 Upper New Walk, Leicester, LE1 7QA. M.gill@perpetuitygroup.com

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