CCTV cameras: useless?

May 11, 2008 at 2:00 am 1 comment

I’m really shocked by an article that has appeared on ABC News (not!). Doubts have been raised about the usefulness of CCTV cameras in preventing crime. The dude who heads up Scotland Yard’s Visual Images, Identifications and Detections section (and who should know a thing or two I’d think about visual identification) is saying that billions of dollars have been wasted on a crime prevention tool that is ineffective.

Detective Chief Inspector Mike Neville says only 3% of London street robberies have been solved through using CCTV cams. Worse: he maintains that no thought has been given to how the CCTV images should be used or analysed by police and he goes on to describe London’s CCTV system as an “utter fiasco”. And before we jump up and down and suggest that the Brits don’t know what they’re talking about, Australian criminologists are agreeing with Neville.

Millions of dollars that could have been put toward (let’s see: better hospital and old age care or education) have been thrown down the gurgler in Australia. A police official said: “There is no national database of images of people. So whilst we might have the images, the difficulty we then have is trying to identify who it is and sometimes that isn’t easy and clearly we can do better.”

Professor Paul Wilson is one of Australia’s best known criminologists and he has conducted an extensive study of CCTV cams in Australia (and you know how irate I get about them because there are so many!). Wilson says“It can work as a device to detect criminals in some cases but often the images are not very clear and do not provide material which is good enough to detect or even prosecute people who have committed crimes. We have people suffering mortgage-stress thanks to the sub-prime mortgage debacle. We have homeless people in Australia. We have a hospital system that is a worry – read this article to see why there might be cause for concern. So I really shake my head wondering why we throw away millions in installing these blind eyes on city streets, around ATMs and in office buildings when extensive studies consistently point to the ineffectiveness of CCTV.

Prof Wilson (clearly a smart dude) says: “I think it’s a great tragedy that Australian politicians at the local and state and federal level believe that crime and terrorism and antisocial activity generally, can be stopped by having more and more CCTV cameras. The evidence is very clear that it can’t be and what we’re doing is pouring literally millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money into a crime prevention technique which only has very limited results and ignoring other methods of reducing crime“.

We have far more things in society to worry about and address. You can read an interesting e-journal article by Wilson and others on the relationship between crime and CCTV here.


Entry filed under: CCTV, Privacy, Public webcams, Surveillance society.

How to spy on British motorists Green but hungry

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Tom Jackson  |  May 18, 2008 at 10:12 am

    Thanks for the information on this, it’s very useful and the site is great.

    We live in a very different society compared to 20 years ago. I remember we used to leave the front door open at night and not be too bothered if we left the car doors/windows open (if there was no rain of course!) but how things have changed hey. We have a small business in Shropshire and have just installed a CCTV security system from Interwatch Security. We’re not that technical but they came in and recommended a certain type of camera and since the IP cameras have been installed and physically noticed outside our offices in Shrewsbury and Telford the number of incidents has been reduced. I wish I was back in the 80’s where surveillance was not an issue.


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