Gigantic study of UK CCTVs find that they should be used in parking lots, scrapped elsewhere

The UK may have deployed 14 CCTV cameras per red blood cell, but a meta-review of 44 studies on crime and CCTV find that ubiquitous surveillance is useful in late night parking lots, and that's about it.
The authors, who include Cambridge University criminologist, David Farrington, say while their results lend support for the continued use of CCTV, schemes should be far more narrowly targeted at reducing vehicle crime in car parks.

Results from a 2007 study in Cambridge which looked at the impact of 30 cameras in the city centre showed that they had no effect on crime but led to an increase in the reporting of assault, robbery and other violent crimes to the police...

The Campbell Collaboration report says that CCTV is now the single most heavily-funded crime prevention measure operating outside the criminal justice system and its rapid growth has come with a huge price tag. It adds that £170m was spent on CCTV schemes in town and city centres, car parks and residential areas between 1999 and 2001 alone. "Over the last decade, CCTV accounted for more than threequarters of total spending on crime prevention by the British Home Office," the report says.

The Lords report said that £500 million was spent in Britain on CCTV in the decade up to 2006, money which in the past would have gone on street lighting or neighbourhood crime prevention initiatives.

CCTV schemes in city and town centres have little effect on crime, says report


  1. Wow. I am so surprised. No really. I’m GOBSMACKED. I thought they were protecting us from swarms of gay Arab paedophile illegal immigrant single mothers. I mean, you don’t really see them around much, and we’re always being told how they’re all trying to blow us all up. One must obviously presume that the cameras are working as intended, no?

  2. Do they not have an impact on gathering evidence and prosecutions though?

    I’m a Brit and though I care a lot about other liberties that are disappearing, I can’t really get angry about being on camera while in public. You’re in public, people can see you anyway.

  3. @FELIX:

    Surely you can get angry at the incredible waste of money it all turns out to be.

  4. @grumpyoldbastard:

    Yes, I hadn’t realised it was quite so much. Especially for technology that will have to be replaced soon.

  5. Having not read the report…..

    While in Texas I noticed quite a few parking areas at malls that had actual police sitting in elevated observation towers. I thought it was a good idea.

  6. @ Felix
    “Do they not have an impact on gathering evidence and prosecutions though?”

    As I recall as per a previous BB post, no, they don’t have an impact. Evidence? Are you kidding? Grainy CCTV footage of someone who may sort of look like the defendant? No.

    How frequently is CCTV footage actually used to stop a crime or to aid in the prosecution of a crime? I bet not very often. I bet anything it’s main use is to look at women.

  7. And they always turn out to be broken whenever the police kill someone in dubious circumstances.

    Given infinite money I too would have no real problem with CCTV. Just like I don’t really see the philosophical objection to ID cards. The practicalities are another thing.

  8. I think you would need to see the full study to see if it makes sense, but on instinct I think the results would differ greatly by area.

    Does cctv have any effect in sleepy English towns, no, probably not. Does it help in London, yes, the clearup rate for murder in London is higher than most world cities. Of course that after the fact, so the “prevent crime” argument is unlikely to hold water anywhere.

  9. They are props for “public security theater.” I suppose more trusting members of the public get a (false) sense of security from seeing the cameras. Therefore they don’t have to be effective, they only need to have a semblance of increasing safety to the uninformed masses.
    This applies to all sorts of measures put in place to “combat terrrorism.” Sleep tight!

  10. So the number of crimes committed is not decreasing, but the number of reports of crime is. So this means that all CCTV is really doing is making the police seem incompetent.

  11. @GrumpyOldBastard #4:

    Surely you can get angry at the incredible waste of money it all turns out to be

    Waste of money? Hardly! Wait until Britain leases these out to reality television. =D

  12. It is also nonsense that more street lighting deters crime.

    Some years ago a shopkeeper, who had been robbed, took his local council all the way to the Australian High Court on the grounds that lack of lighting contributed to the offense.

    There was no evidence to be found to support this claim, nor should there be.

    People may well have vague, para-literary memes of R.L.Stevenson-type ruffians and ne’er-do-wells lurking in the darkness but that just isn’t the case in reality.

  13. Definitely, CCTV can help cop to maintain crime in public place like car parking, and in building or shopping complex.

  14. @Noen: All (or at least, most) London buses have CCTV cameras. Some of them have LCD screens so you know you’re being watched (or else they show ads). It isn’t grainy. And that’s only a bus. If you want to argue against CCTV you should argue against the latest technology. Otherwise someone will just say “oh, but the newer cameras fix that”, and they’d be right.

    I like some non-crime uses of CCTV, e.g. I don’t see any argument against the cameras at level crossings that confirm to the signaller the crossing is clear.
    The only arguments I can really see against CCTV are against data retention (or especially aggregation) and apply to much more than just video.

  15. In London many of the CCTVs are used to “report crime” such as driving your car in a bus lane or for parking enforcement.. all which result in monetary punishments ;-)

  16. Not sure if it’s the report alluded to in the article, but the 2007 annual report for Cambridge’s CCTV stated that there were 1170 arrests in 2006-2007 as a direct result of CCTV, 442 of these for fighting/assault.

  17. There are many reason why there shouldnt be so many cctv cameras but i dont believe its because its not effective in many cases.

    I was attacked in the street and before i could think about what i was going to do the police drove up and arrested him.

    Keeping an eye on violent flashpoints in our city centres is a good thing in order to provide a quick response is fine. They just took it too far as per usual.

  18. Well, good. So hopefully they’ll heed the science and place them where they’re most effective, and save money by not bothering where they aren’t.

    (And yes, I’m in the “no ideological objection to being on camera when I’m in public” camp.)

  19. @ Xaxa
    I’m not against CCTV’s and very in favor of them in places like buses, elevators, stairwells, building entrances. I was (mostly) just asking questions and skeptical that the total street level saturation in the UK really is as effective as claimed.

  20. #1) CCTV works in the dark as well… well it does now they have infra-red sensitive detector chips and infra-red LED arrays to illuminate the scene with…

    #16… paradoxically, lighting increases crime because there are dark shadows for the criminals to lurk in while joe public’s night vision has been destroyed because he’s in the lit areas… take away the street lights and your eyes have a chance to adapt to the low light and you stand a much greater chance of detecting a lurker’s movement.

  21. how to build a cctv camera killer? Like an EMP rifle? What tech vulnerability exists? The sensor chip? What frequency and how much energy for say thirty meters range? The circuitry? Focused ultra sound? (the optics) Something more subtle and classier than a brick? A bio attack with a handful of goo that loves to mold camera parts? Pigeons Skinnerianed into lens pecking? GM insects? A cloud of chemical gas that rots electronic parts? A ballpeen hammer to the side of your MP’s head?

  22. got it! Spider monkeys conditioned with brain electrode implants to bugger cctv cameras (by clever use of furry training aid cameras)so all the attendant sees is furiously plunging little monkey parts.

  23. As much as my heart is with the EMP techy option, I love the idea of tiny monkey balls oscillating aggressively at the camera ops.

    Eee! Eee! Eee! Ook!

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