The Scientific Indian

CCTV as Security theater


From the beebs:

Only one crime was solved by each 1,000 CCTV cameras in London last year, a report into the city’s surveillance network has claimed.

The internal police report found the million-plus cameras in London rarely help catch criminals.

Bruce Schneider calls this security theater. It makes a good show to be able to show pictures on TV of alleged criminals. We watch it and feel safe: if a criminal is caught on a camera, it wouldn’t be long before he is caught physically as well. Right? Wrong. It seems very reasonable and natural but fact is not obliged to follow our misguided security fancies.

Makes me wonder if the hoodie culture among youth in UK is driven partly by the CCTV madness that pervades the island. CCTV Cameras send a message that everyone is a potential criminal. Don’t they? If this is all about money, it’s a great shame that we allow this to continue as it is.


  1. #1 Dunc
    September 2, 2009

    Makes me wonder if the hoodie culture among youth in UK is driven partly by the CCTV madness that pervades the island.

    I don’t think so – hoodies first became really big in the underground rave culture of the early 90s, before the CCTV thing really took off. A decent hoodie is exactly what you need when you come out of a club at 4 in the morning dripping with sweat and off your nut on drugs.

  2. #2 Eamon
    September 2, 2009

    And of course the question “How many crimes did CCTV prevent?” can be asked.

    It would also be good to know how serious the thousand crimes that the CCTV cameras actually solve were – then a cost/benefit analysis could be attempted.

  3. #3 ABradford
    September 2, 2009

    >1000 crimes solved with the help of CCTV seems like plenty; redundancy often sounds ridiculous in the right context.

    Be sure to include the crimes that were solved without the need for CCTV recordings, especially when the cameras conceivably caught something that could have been used to identify the suspect or plot out the crime timeline, but wasn’t necessary.

    I’m not sure how tough this would be to measure, but if it were done, the numbers might sound more reasonable.

    CCTV is a tool, and it doesn’t seem like in this case it is being relied on too heavily.

  4. #4 Katherine
    September 2, 2009

    “CCTV Cameras send a message that everyone is a potential criminal.” Funny, I’ve never picked up on that message. I always thought they sent the message that areas with CCTV cameras are safer than areas without, because no-one likes to get caught on camera. Of course, if they put out reports like this, that say the CCTV cameras don’t help catch criminals, then they’ll get less effective at preventing crime. Perhaps they’ll catch more crimes on camera now, as people will think they won’t be caught?

    One thing that CCTV cameras would DEFINITELY prevent, is people saying a crime never happened.

  5. #5 Vince Whirlwind
    September 3, 2009

    I would like to share my experience with CCTV.

    I was living in a town in Oxfordshire, on a busy road, one of the 4 main roads out from the centre of town. Every night of the week some time after closing time we would enjoy the sounds of a long procession of singing drunks staggering home. At least once a week, at least one window would be smashed by the drunks. Some weeks there would be damage every night. Some nights many windows would be smashed.

    After we were there about two years, a CCTV camera was installed at the town centre end of the street, and another midway up the street, practically opposite our house.

    Over the next 3 months we read in the local free paper of two instances of court proceedings being instituted against perpetrators of criminal damage in our street. Following this, the weekly damage in our street dropped away to NOTHING. It stopped completely.

    So, I can say two things:

    – “Everyone is a potential criminal”. Utter. Drivel. If you don’t do crime, you’re not a criminal. The appearance of a CCTV camera outside our house was initially a curiosity and ultimately a comfort to us.

    – CCTV doesn’t work. More drivel. In our street it caused a constant litany of crimes to cease completely.

    I believe there should be MORE CCTV. I wish we had CCTV in the street I currently live in – in the last 3 years, we have been victims of 4 instances of criminal damage – in one of which a pipe-bomb in our letterbox blew a hole through our roof, smashing 3 large concrete rooftiles. These incidents aren’t just distressing, they are dangerous crimes.

  6. #6 selva
    September 3, 2009

    Katherine, Vince,
    I understand your feelings. We face similar problems (but not as much as you) where I live.

    If CCTV cameras are proven to prevent crime more effectively and more economically than plain old patrolling and other measures, it would make sense to discuss the question of sustaining/expanding CCTV coverage (bearing in mind the concerns to civil liberties). As Schnieder says, CCTV is good theater. Facts don’t hold up to CCTV’s billing as crime preventers. Sure it works in cases like yours, but that does not mean they are effective on the whole as the report quoted in BBC shows.

    The indiscriminate use of CCTV fueled by exploitation of fear (and greed of those who milk CCTV for money) needs to be pushed back.

    Needless to say, I wish mine and your place would have less crime.

  7. #7 Eamon
    September 4, 2009

    And from the BBC page itself:

    A spokesman for the Met said: “We estimate more than 70% of murder investigations have been solved with the help of CCTV retrievals and most serious crime investigations have a CCTV investigation strategy.”

  8. #8 selva
    September 4, 2009

    Eamon, I am not sure if you quoted that to argue for or against excessive CCTV use. I am sure you realize that the spokesman for Met is doing his job. Clearly, he isn’t there to make the Met look bad. If he did, he wouldn’t be the ‘spokesman’.

    The Met do not reveal how they arrived at their 70% estimate. And, saying ‘most serious crime investigations have a CCTV investigation strategy’ is meaningless. One can have a strategy to use Kryptonite to solve crimes. A strategy does not establish any fact, neither does it justify it’s use.

  9. #9 Eamon
    September 4, 2009

    I was using that as an argument for CCTV use.

    As for the Met, I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt at this stage.

    As for the ‘CCTV investigation strategy’ I’m assuming that they mean that they have developed and refined protocols and procedures for the use of CCTV in investigations.

  10. #10 Vince Whirlwind
    September 7, 2009

    Maybe you’re missing the point a bit – the CCTV cameras that solved the crime in my street are now sitting there “doing nothing”. But that doesn’t mean they are ineffective: they’ve done their job very well indeed.

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