Tuesday, 25 August 2009

CCTV - wrong method, wrong purpose?

I'm no great fan of CCTV. But neither am I a great fan of sloppy reporting or sloppy debate. We are told that CCTV cameras are an expensive waste of time because they don't help solve crime - except in one case per thousand cameras.

There are two things wrong with this analysis, if I can call it that. The first is that the evidence reported suggests it's not the cameras themselves that are failing, but the way they're being used. If the cameras don't take pictures, as is reported, and if they're being examined by untrained people (though I suppose we should be grateful it's being done here, and not outsourced to somewhere like the Philippines or Iowa), it's not surprising that things slip through.

And secondly, solving crime is not the only purpose of CCTV (I assume). Part of the purpose must be the prevention of crime. I have not found anywhere in the current reporting any evidence of whether areas with CCTV suffer less crime. In fact I don't know of any statistical evidence about this, so if anyone can point me to some I would be grateful. The only evidence I know of personally is a chat with a town centre car park caretaker one day a few months after cameras were installed in his car park. He said that prior to installation he used to have to sweep up glass from car headlights daily. Since their installation that had ceased to be part of his job because people didn't vandalise car headlights any more. So, has crime in CCTVed areas gone down, or do we have a particularly insouciant class of criminal in this country that continues to commit crime despite the probability of getting themselves recorded doing it?

3 comments:

Hapi said...

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Doktor Jon said...

Congratulations Rob!

For my sins, I read more column inches about CCTV than any sensible (and supposedly sane) human should ever be expected to tolerate, and yet my accidental happening upon your blog post, has genuinely brightened up my day.

You've managed in a few paragraphs to correctly identify the two key issues, that most CCTV 'experts' could struggle throughout their careers to comprehend.

The subject of CCTV is fiendishly simple to understand, but devilishly complex to make any sense of ....

There is now quite a bit of less than impressive academic research that has been done into the supposed effects of video surveillance, but unfortunately, they almost all suffer from the same naive assumption, which is that both the technology and techniques have been applied correctly, in order to produce the results that are being analysed.

Using your car park example, this has generally been identified as the most successful in terms of driving down crime, but for the wrong reasons.

Car parks mostly use 'passive' CCTV systems to help keep down the cost, but if set up correctly, these are the most effective in producing "Evidential Recordings".

It is not the technology per se that reduces the crime in these locations, but rather the belief amongst would be offenders, that if they do commit a crime there is a very high probability that they will be identified.

So in the most basic sense, more often than not, the cost and performance of the technology is not a particularly relevant consideration, in the context of producing results (i.e. a reduction in incidents).

Oh dear, seems like I'm getting a wee bit carried away again :-))

Bottom line, a very cogent blog post Rob ... if only I came across more like that :-)

Doktor Jon

Doktor Jon said...

Congratulations Rob!

For my sins, I read more column inches about CCTV than any sensible (and supposedly sane) human should ever be expected to tolerate, and yet my accidental happening upon your blog post, has genuinely brightened up my day.

You've managed in a few paragraphs to correctly identify the two key issues, that most CCTV 'experts' could struggle throughout their careers to comprehend.

The subject of CCTV is fiendishly simple to understand, but devilishly complex to make any sense of ....

There is now quite a bit of less than impressive academic research that has been done into the supposed effects of video surveillance, but unfortunately, they almost all suffer from the same naive assumption, which is that both the technology and techniques have been applied correctly, in order to produce the results that are being analysed.

Using your car park example, this has generally been identified as the most successful in terms of driving down crime, but for the wrong reasons.

Car parks mostly use 'passive' CCTV systems to help keep down the cost, but if set up correctly, these are the most effective in producing "Evidential Recordings".

It is not the technology per se that reduces the crime in these locations, but rather the belief amongst would be offenders, that if they do commit a crime there is a very high probability that they will be identified.

So in the most basic sense, more often than not, the cost and performance of the technology is not a particularly relevant consideration, in the context of producing results (i.e. a reduction in incidents).

Oh dear, seems like I'm getting a wee bit carried away again :-))

Bottom line, a very cogent blog post Rob ... if only I came across more like that :-)

Jon