CCTVs don't solve crime in UK; Scotland Yard's answer: more CCTVs!

You know all those Orwellian cameras that line the streets of London? Pretty much useless in crime-fighting. Scotland Yard's solution? More cameras!
Massive investment in CCTV cameras to prevent crime in the UK has failed to have a significant impact, despite billions of pounds spent on the new technology, a senior police officer piloting a new database has warned. Only 3% of street robberies in London were solved using CCTV images, despite the fact that Britain has more security cameras than any other country in Europe.
Link (Thanks, Clifton!)


  1. Hmmm…

    I’ve started to run into the term “hoodies”, being used to describe criminal kids using hoodies (the item of clothing) to conceal their faces from CCTV.

    Yet another example of “crime-fighting” technology that only invaded the privacy of the innocent, without helping much in prosecuting the guilty.

  2. Allow me to play devil’s advocate:
    The sentence “3% of street robberies in London were solved using CCTV images” can mean two things.

    Does it mean “3% of the solved street robberies in London were solved using CCTV images”
    “3% of all street robberies in London were solved using CCTV images”.

    If the latter is the case, then the statistic is useless without knowing the percentage of street robberies solved overall.

  3. So you don’t need to make any pictures on your holiday, just search for your suspect pictures online afterwards. Nice result and typical for a terrorpeut reaction.

  4. There are only two policy options with empirically observed impact on crime rates:

    1) More police on the streets.
    2) Longer sentences for criminals.

    All other policy options are faith-based crime control, just as surely as the old Natural Law Party’s proposed policy of transcendental meditation as a method of reducing crime.

  5. The news item quoted is a Monday morning scrabbling around for news story. Back in 2003 Prof Jonathan Shepherd of did some work on CCTV and he found the same thing, that cameras in our High Street do not deter violent attacks (most attacks are usually made by people under the influence of alcohol so they don’t notice, or don’t care about the cameras.) However Prof Shepherd did find that the severity of injuries to the victim was reduced when CCTV was present. (basically the police got to the crime scene more quickly to break up the fight!) So they do have some non indended benefit

  6. I know several people who’ve had bikes stolen from under CCTV cameras here in London. In every case the police either refused to check the footage or said that they checked it and it’s useless.

    Apparrently criminals tend to hide their faces from cameras. Who could’ve seen that coming?

    I’m still fairly freaked out after visiting the Cardiff central police CCTV room nearly ten years ago. One wall was a massive bank of monitors, arranged around two big screens. As a demonstration of their ability, we picked a person at random and followed him halfway across the city until we got bored. At the end of that time we’d seen what model phone he had, who he banked with (by fluke we saw his cash card when zoomed in) and two digits of the PIN he typed into a cash machine (ATM). We also saw the faces of a couple of people he met and seemed friendly with. Maybe I’m paranoid, but that was scary stuff. To add fun, a friend in Manchester tells me that they now have police CCTV cameras with microphones and speakers.

    Even then the officers admitted that they were beginning to have a problem with troublemakers wearing hoods and hats. Their focus was much more on spotting accidents and assaults so they could get ambulances and police there faster.

  7. That’s the classic example where data collected in excess is more trouble than solution. Looks like people that seeking for absolute network security keeps snort generating alerts for everything. After a while the number of false positives is so huge that nobody really wants to analyze that…

    BTW, I’ve always been suspicious of huge investments where cheaper solutions can be found. Necessary to see who’s getting all that money and that he is not “rewarding” purchasers both locally or in numbered accounts in Cayman Islands :)

  8. Let me play devils advocate, what is the big deal about having cctv around. It is a tool to help the police catch criminals. How could it harm people that are not breaking the law? And of course there should be laws that punish harshly its misuse. Of course the money could be better spent on hiring more policemen to walk the streets.

  9. @11:

    Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

    Who watches the watchers?

    How would you know if the CCTV system were being misused? There is no public oversight of its use. There have also been many cases of the police fraternity covering for its members, protecting them. If you’d just had a nasty breakup with a police officer you were dating, would you want them to be able to follow your every move, find your bank card number, and even discover your PIN _without anyone knowing_?

    People are arguing that the huge potential for misuse outweighs the small benefits.

  10. Bundercup, why don’t you let the government install a camera in your head? In your bedroom?

    The point is, like with most of these modern government ideas about ‘security’ – they don’t actually help, they don’t even make things harder for the criminals, just ordinary people.


  11. I know I’d feel safer if they also banned hoodies and caps and Guy Fawks masks. Where’s that terrorist hotline? I see a guy holding an umbrella that may be blocking his face from the CCTV’s view and it’s already kinda hard to see because of the rain.

  12. @12

    Well I don’t think that the police has access to bank cameras and policemen could do far worse than following my every move on cctv. Solution: don’t date policemen :Þ

  13. @ 13

    My head and bathroom are a private area the same cant be said about the street outside my home. And how can it make your life harder? I think the fundamental issue is that I trust my government to behave in a way that helps me.

  14. There is a Memex-like trend for people to record more and more of their daily life, enabling them to have a personal history of extreme detail (but that history will contain others, strangers in public…). If the general population adopted this technology then it would be ancillary to what the government has. Both systems could compliment each other. The future is about more information, more facts, more details. Perhaps what we need to do is mandate privacy laws that make it extremely difficult for law enforcement to view city records unless they think it will help solve a documented crime. We might also start adapting our notion of what privacy is. I think most of our notions of privacy are illusions. Just think how a historian could use CCTV records! Don’t you wish we had records like that from just 20 or 30 years ago? How about WWII? I love history, so I’m all for it.

  15. Speaking of hoodies, have you seen these?

    They come complete with zip up masks built into the hoods and covered eyeholes to see through.

    The stores in my city can’t keep them in stock, they sell so fast, and we have CCTV cameras… a coincidence?

    CCTV may help in the ‘he said/she said’ of a traffic accident and the like, but criminals will always find a work-around to the technology.

  16. “I trust my government to behave in a way that helps me.”

    Morons like you are usually the first to go when the crack down comes. And it will.

  17. Similar reasoning:
    When you take out a life insurance, do you actualy believe that this will insure you staying alive?
    No. It’s not really an insurance against something, you see. It only gives ppl financial compensation after IT (whatever IT is) has happened.
    Same with CCTV. It has no preventive function. More cameras does NOT mean more security. All this proves, is that those who are responsible to protect you, are in actuality quite impotent (yes, that is the word!) in this respect. These cameras can be regarded as an hysterical attempt to gain somekind of control over matters. In fact, the only thing gained by this type of surveillance, is that in a very limited percentage of criminal cases, you can confront the alleged perpetrator with footage, based on which he/she could get convicted. Meanwhile, the amount of public spending necessary to adequately maintain this vast grid of monitors, stands in no comparison to the net results.
    Crime prevention is a whole different ballgame. It deals with education, family counseling, therapy. The trouble is, you can’t quantify the crimes prevented through those measures and methodes, and therefore, they are not valued. So they don’t get first pickings in the line of public recourses.

  18. Bundercup,
    I’ll put what Noen said in a different way…sortof.

    It’s inmportant to trust your government to a certain extent, provided you have an open mind. Basically, trust them, not blindly trust them, until they do something to prevent you from trusting them (See ALL USA examples of such).

    Now, the ‘actual’ problem with these cameras is NOT the government itself, that’s over-reaching. It’s with the officers that have access to it, without ANY oversight. Don’t get me wrong, 99.9% (or slightly less maybe) are good cops who won’t do anything ‘wrong’ with the data/images. It’s the minority of that .1% that might pose a potential problem. No singular entity is 100% good or 100% bad, its the few in between that cause the problems.

    Every police force everywhere has a bad cop, but the entirety of the forces are quite respectable. Whenever you get someone in a position of power, it CAN corrupt them. Recently on a SINGLE day we had 6 police officers in court in Toronto on different charges (prostitution, drugs, . . . ). Is the Toronto Police Force bad…no…just some of it’s officers.

    To finish off, I don’t think they should add more cameras. It won’t prevent any more crime. It MAY help catch more criminals, but…good police work can do the same thing.

  19. CCTV cameras are not about crime prevention any more than torture is about collecting information. Their purpose is to terrorize the general population. To render you submissive while you are fitted for your chains.

  20. #6: “There are only two policy options with empirically observed impact on crime rates”

    BZZT! Wrong. There’s only one and it’s access to birth control for women (and in particular, access to lawful abortion!), even if the impact is felt only a generation later. It’s the highest correlation ever found with an impact on crime.

  21. I can tell you this much about those CCTVs in the UK, they are one of the reasons that I will not visit the UK right now. The scope of Orwellian surveillance in the UK is bettered by no other “free” country in the world. The other country that I refuse to visit until they get their collective shit together, is the US. Of course, that won’t be happening in my lifetime so …

  22. Who says the CCTVs aren’t working? They may not do much for crime, but they do a lovely job of making people feel more like suspects than citizens.

  23. Morons like you are usually the first to go when the crack down comes.

    I find that they’re usually the first to go over to the dark side and rat out their neighbors in hopes of currying favor.

    And criminals have been called hoods since the 1920s, short for hoodlum, which funnily enough has nothing to do with headgear.

  24. When I read the equivalent story on the BBC – – I took it a slightly different way; he’s not saying that we need more CCTV, he’s saying that we need to actually use it effectively – make sure that tapes can be looked at easily, use modern software to their advantage. I actually have no objection to this, or to CCTV in general – it’s a public place, you don’t do anything there that you’re not happy for people to observe. (Yes they can be used by an oppressive police state, but the problem there isn’t the CCTV, it’s the state – if they’re out to get you they won’t need CCTV).

  25. I was assaulted, in the London Underground, twice, on two separated occasions, by the same guy. Under the gaze of the CCTV cameras. When I had my interview with a transport police officer after the second occasion, I asked if they could get anything to help them with identifying the psycho. He said that it would be too much trouble for them to look through the tapes.

  26. Morons like you are usually the first to go when the crack down comes.

    Let’s chill on the ad hominem, guys. Bundercup’s playing devil’s advocate.

  27. Ad Hominem attacks? On the internet? No Way!

    But, you gotta admit, when you come into a comment thread and see lots of ad hominem attacks against gibberish, it looks very surreal. I never thought long strings of consonants could be so inflammatory.

    Debunking is much more fun.

    CCTV isn’t terrorizing anyone that doesn’t already have a persecution complex. I fail to see how CCTV on public streets is going to lead to CCTV in my bathroom. There is a clear line between public and private at the threshold (including all information gateways) of the private dwelling. The conditions in which authorities can cross that line is a genuine issue, but not one involving CCTV.

    CCTV has been in public and private places of business for decades… why the sudden paranoia about street surveillance? It’s still public property. If you’re in a place where a cop has the right to stand there and watch you, why can’t a cop watch you in the same place via CCTV?

    However, unlike an officer standing on the street observing the public, CCTV really doesn’t provide the same quality of surveillance or presence of authority. Even if the government wanted to use CCTV in some scheme to track everyone, all the time, consider this: If CCTV has 3% crime prevention rate, why does it stand to reason that it will perform much better at anything else?

    The idea that there could be an Orwellian dystopia under constant surveillance, via CCTV or other means, has two fatal flaws:

    The government simply can’t watch everyone and everything all the time. CCTV can’t do it. No system of wiretaps and packet sniffers can do it. No limited number of humans and machines is capable of doing that effectively. For widespread surveillance to work you need close to a 1:1 ratio of observer to observed, and no bureaucracy outnumbers the populace…


    The people DO have that ability. Who doesn’t at least have a camera phone these days? The capability for pervasive surveillance that can be targeted to anything of interest is in fact a reality, and that power is in the hands of the population.

    “If you see something, say something” works both ways.

  28. Bundercup’s playing devil’s advocate.

    And who says that playing Devil’s Advocate is acceptable behavior. Wouldn’t pushing an opinion that you don’t believe be prima facie trolling?

  29. antinous –

    Have you ever watched a competitive debate?

    When you know the the debate is going to be very one-sided, it’s good to have someone (usually someone highly skilled) volunteer to take the unpopular side of an argument for the sake of a good discussion.

    Bundercup was clear about that, which makes the ad hominem attacks even more inappropriate (and pointless. It’s not necessarily the person’s real opinion!)

    Trolling is using inflammatory remarks to try and elicit equally charged responses. Attention-seeking behavior. Agreement or disagreement, doesn’t matter, trolls just go for the maximum number of reactions. Trolls don’t openly play devil’s advocate because people usually get more irritated when they think someone actually holds a “wrong” opinion.

  30. antinous – i really hate it when it seems like it’s me and one other person arguing on a thread read by what… thousands? millions?

    I just see a big flaw in the following argument, and moderation is welcome to agree or disagree. In fact, I’d like to know BB’s opinion on this:

    And who says that playing Devil’s Advocate is acceptable behavior. Wouldn’t pushing an opinion that you don’t believe be prima facie trolling?

    If a discussion is completely monochromatic, there’s nothing to see. There’s a need for a D.A. in that kind of situation. Now, if someone is automatically a troll for playing D.A., and trolling is moderated (policy here is that trolls can’t just be ignored) then essentially, one (or more) sides of the argument are not considered. Seeing things from a different point of view other than the majority is important, is it not?

    The real difference between D.A. and trolling is that you make a case instead of just saying everyone else is wrong.

  31. In fact, I’d like to know BB’s opinion on this

    Flag your own comment and ask. That’s the easiest way to get an answer. And I was asking a philosophical question, not picking a fight.

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