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10,000 Cameras Ineffective At Deterring Crime 414

Mike writes "London has 10,000 crime-fighting CCTV cameras which cost £200 million but an analysis of the publicly funded spy network has cast serious doubt on its ability to help solve crime. In fact, four out of five of the boroughs with the most cameras have a record of solving crime that is below average. The study found that police are no more likely to catch offenders in areas with hundreds of cameras than in those with hardly any. Could this be an effective argument against the proliferation of cameras or will politicians simply ignore the facts and press ahead?"
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10,000 Cameras Ineffective At Deterring Crime

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  • by jcr ( 53032 ) <.moc.cam. .ta. .rcj.> on Thursday September 20, 2007 @09:40PM (#20691197) Journal
    When you gather that much footage, what do you look at? Unless the brits are ready hire a veritable army of people to scan through the video, they'll have to pick and choose what's important enough to look for. The 7/7 bombings were, daily muggings aren't.


  • Re:The answer is... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by tburkhol ( 121842 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @10:10PM (#20691477)
    Politicians will simply ignore the facts and press ahead.

    Let's not pretend this behavior is limited to politicians. In my experience, most people, presented with a sound, logical argument having no supporting facts (or even counter-evidence) and a farfetched argument supported by great detail, will prefer the logical argument. People like for things to make sense more than they like them to be true.
  • by wytcld ( 179112 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @10:27PM (#20691627) Homepage

    They're meant as a means to control the populace and nothing more.
    The cameras aren't there to control. They're there to corrupt. They make people trust each other less. Why would all those cameras be there, if all these other people weren't dangerous the moment the authorities take their eyes off them? Once you start not trusting anyone, believing that they're basically all against you, it becomes much easier to ignore their well being, even to engage in occupations and activities which take advantage of them in ways you wouldn't if mutual trust were established. But you can't trust these people. They're people who need to be watched. And now they're people who need to watch out for you.

    The cameras, you see, destroy the socialist impulse, and turn Londoners into the perfect model of predatory capitalists. Which is a great joke, since London has a self-styled socialist mayor.
  • by Turn-X Alphonse ( 789240 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @10:39PM (#20691719) Journal
    I'm English and I for one do not love these things. I feel I need a tin foil hat every time I go on a street and would really rather avoid constantly being on camera (I suppose I'm rather paranoid). It is not that we want them, it is that we have no choice in the matter. Even if we stand up and say no, we get ignored. The politicians don't care what people want and are too busy focusing on Global warming and "British values" currently to even bother worrying about this.

    Cameras = Seem a solution = People vote for them to "solve crime"
  • Waste of money (Score:2, Interesting)

    by NetNed ( 955141 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @10:55PM (#20691845)
    In the situations that these cameras are used it is a waste of money. They do not deter criminals, they just make the public feel watched and untrusted. To think other wise is to give yourself a false sense of security.

    I have a buddy that owns a local restaurant with 16 cameras installed in and outside the building. They are good to dispel employees steeling or goofing off at the wrong times but if you don't know the person before hand they are useless.

    Example: my buddy rides his bicycle to work 2 or 3 time a week for exercise. He leaves it next to the dumpster between that and a 8 foot high brick enclousre.
    The one day he goes out to make his ride home and find the bike missing.So he plays back the tapes (dvr or dvd back-ups) to see the time the guy steels the bike.
    It was worthless because you can make out who it is other then it was a older guy.

    Getting a good shot seemed to be the key, which would be hard with a unmanned camera.
  • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @10:55PM (#20691851)
    They're meant as a means to control the populace and nothing more.

          Please elaborate.

          If by "controlling the populace" you mean increasing adherence to the law, then in effect you are deterring crime. However a camera won't force you to go to church on Sundays or turn you into a philanthropist, or file your tax return on time.
  • Re:Poor analysis (Score:5, Interesting)

    by lawpoop ( 604919 ) on Thursday September 20, 2007 @11:02PM (#20691919) Homepage Journal
    If this really is true, we could easily prove or disprove it. First, make a map of street crimes before cameras. Then, make a map of street crime after cameras. The 'after' map should show holes where no street crime is occurring. These crimeless holes should match up exactly with a map of camera coverage.

    Furthermore, I won't buy arguments that cameras deter crime generally because criminals don't know where cameras are, so they simply stop committing crimes all around. Criminals, though they risk injury and imprisonment in their chosen profession, really aren't stupid. They are clever like a fox -- they find 'safe' areas to prowl and pick 'marks' to target. If they know a camera is in the area, they will avoid it. If you ever doubt that criminals are clever and crafty, overhear a conversation amongst drug dealers and buyers. They know the ins and outs of reasonable search, suspicion, evidence, punishment, and mandatory sentencing.

    "Well, if they are so smart and they know so much about the law, then why do they get caught?" They know ( and learn -- sometimes the hard way ) the risks, and they willingly take them. Getting caught is part of the game. It's like asking, "If investors know so much about finance, why would they ever lose money?" Criminals view it as part of the system. You win some, you lose some. Time in prison is seen by many young black men as part of growing up. Sooner or later, you are going to do time.
  • Re:James Bulger (Score:3, Interesting)

    by 1u3hr ( 530656 ) on Friday September 21, 2007 @12:03AM (#20692383)
    Without the CCTV footage, the police wouldn't have had any leads to work with in the James Bulger case

    If you spent the same amount of money on putting a few hundred more police on patrol, would you solve, or prevent, more such crimes? And the Bolger kid is dead, the cameras didn't save him. A policeman on the scene might have.

  • by orpheum ( 1064692 ) on Friday September 21, 2007 @12:27AM (#20692523) Homepage

    That's not the problem. Clearly it's a waste of money. If criminals don't feel deterred to commit a crime if there's a camera watching them, by bother spending 200 million quid on the system? Couldn't that money be used to help cure the main causes of crime in the first place like homelessness and poverty?

    What's the minimum wage in the UK? Maybe that could use a boost instead of the gov't could subsidize small businesses for a few years so that the shock isn't so great.

  • by falconwolf ( 725481 ) <falconsoaring_2000NO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Friday September 21, 2007 @01:13AM (#20692793)

    Loss of privacy? A very small price to pay for catching and deterring drunk drivers.

    No, but it might prevent you from speaking in public about politics, or of demonstrating politically, even if only peacefully.

  • by vorlich ( 972710 ) on Friday September 21, 2007 @02:35AM (#20693175) Homepage Journal
    Where I come from in Scotland we have large numbers of cameras, particularly in the city centre where the intention is to reduce crime that is a by-product of drinking. The cameras are part of crowd control and very little else. I worked in a bar in the town centre and I can promise you nobody really took much notice of the cameras. Violence and breaches of the peace were reduced but people continued to consume drugs, misbehave and have sex in doorways. I remember once a guy, on his stag night was stripped butt naked, tied to a lamppost and whipped by his mates and although all of the cameras rotated to watch it, the police didn't arrive until it was all over and they were back in the pub (dressing him in a nappy, I might add for surrealistic effect).

    I lived in what was considered the roughest area of the city and at a community council meeting, where some residents were a) demanding camera surveillance and b) drawing comparisons between how they were treated and the how more affluent areas of the city were treated, I suggested that we not only have the cameras but they could pipe it in to all our TV's and we then would could all see who the criminals were. It was roundly applauded, but we never did get the cameras.

    Where I live now in South Germany, there are very few cameras apart from traffic control, you can drink for almost 24 hours a day and I have never witnessed street violence on par with my native country. You can drive your car at almost any speed you want on the Autobhan and Germany has the lowest level of Road Traffic Accidents per kilometre in the world - if you are like me tootling along in your truck at a snail's pace of 110 kph and stream of cars pass you with after-burners blazing at + 200 kph, this sounds rather surprising but it is true. If you do speed in the restricted areas and are caught on camera, you can request the photo. The photo is always a full frontal of you in the car with your face clearly visible. Some kids wave and legend has it, they get fined extra for lack of respect. My partner was hilariously caught speeding in a 15kph (!) zone, doing 20 and her employers presented her with the snap.

    When I lived in Miami, I couldn't help but be impressed by how quiet the bars were and how friendly the Miami people were - and it's a party town, the bars are pretty wild. Both South Germany and Florida are dynamic economies and trading hubs. Scotland is neither or more accurately, there is less money in the economy. Florida has concealed gun laws and even the poorest South German has a remarkably high standard of living. In Switzerland almost everyone has a gun and for the purposes of civil defence were compelled to have one, and to generalise, they are fairly well off, have almost no crime and no cameras. Now I won't for a moment claim that my observation are anything other than anecdotal, but I also cannot help noticing the paucity of valid evidence either way. So I might dare to suggest that crime fighting cameras have more to do with poor economic performance - which is subject to the market and difficult to affect - and the symbolic effect they have on the electorate - and for that reason we might be looking in the wrong place for the evidence that either supports or demolishes the argument.
  • by eh2o ( 471262 ) on Friday September 21, 2007 @02:43AM (#20693207)
    Its a marginal probability so the percentages *are* directly comparable. In other words, according to this study fake cameras would be just as effective as real ones for the purpose of solving crimes.

    Whether or not cameras -- real OR fake vs none at all has any effect on crime rate is a separate and independent analysis, but I'd say its highly unlikely, since the basic function of a deterrent is to increase risk, which clearly isn't the case here. Presumably that question has also been addressed, since it is an obvious one to raise.

    Incidentally, one of the criticisms of the death penalty is that it isn't an effective deterrent either, but that analysis is based entirely on large scale trends, which is a much harder point to argue because the correlation isn't as clear.
  • by PingPongBoy ( 303994 ) on Friday September 21, 2007 @02:53AM (#20693271)
    cameras don't deter criminals

    Yes, they do. The Brits would know that one of their lords, Conrad Black, was caught on camera taking evidence against a court order. A lot of people will think twice about hidden cameras.

    The amount of stuff available for smash and grab or just grab has risen significantly over the last twenty years, but it isn't just good upbringing that's deterring a whole generation of shoplifters. We all know that a good number of these youngsters wouldn't think twice about ripping someone off given the chance, as one can see from the bald-faced filesharing that industry is essentially paying lip service to stemming the upstoppable tide. Only the most desperate or the most ignorant people risk physical crime. Technology has made it much too difficult--the real deterrence is the combination of camera and the willingness to prosecute.

    Properity and temptation abound, and many people ski down the slippery slope of selfish ends justifying any means. The next time you're out and about and haven't been brained by someone disguised in a suit, you have to thank technology for cameras that prevent that person from being victimized by some 1 hoodlum in 1000 people, and thereby becoming a soulless predator after having lost faith in humanity and civilization, and for nonnegotiables encoded in plastic.

    Still, it is strange that 10,000 cameras are said to make little difference. That's easily said, but was there much suspicious activity seen on video, or was the halo effect in effect? The halo effect is an attitude that a driver might have when he sees a police car--the driver will do everything right, like a little angel, until he believes there's no more chance of observation, and then it's back to speeding and rolling through stop signs.

    Multitudes of cameras have this numbing effect. People might behave woodenly by habit when they're outside but take out the stress inside by commiting even more devious or out-of-control acts just to keep themselves from totally falling apart. The cameras would be accepted more easily if they were known to help catch very frightening criminals. But it all depends on the type of people being surveiled. Were they upstanding people before the cameras were in place?

    The concept of using an array of cameras to track someone in real-time would be difficult over a large area. Such an array in a casino works when all areas are visible. A much larger area requires many more cameras. As technology improves these cameras might have rapidly oscillating focus and zoom as well as quick swivel, much like a lawn sprinker or the eyes of a driver. If hundreds of millions are available to play with, this is the kind of technology that will pop up.

    Once the technology is deemed good enough, it will be deployed to troubled areas like Baghdad. One may firmly believe a lot of funding will be put on this technology.
  • by Aceticon ( 140883 ) on Friday September 21, 2007 @03:48AM (#20693539)

    The point of these cameras is not to make people safer, but to make people *feel* safer. Last I heard, the Brits love the things ...

    I've lived in several countries in Europe (Portugal, Holland) and i now live in the UK (in London).

    From what i see:
    - Brits are by far the most consumerist people
    - Brits are (again, by far) the most likelly to be into "celeb" news and following "celeb" fashion
    - Prices are higher in the UK than anywhere else in Europe
    - England (at least London) is the most likelly place for people to work long hours
    - Political spin here is the worse i've seen (yeah, I could speak the local language of all other countries i lived in, so I could follow politics in there too)

    Last pool I saw said that 27% of Brits defended more and harsher security measures.

    In all honesty, London is the place in Europe where i get the strongest feeling that i'm surrounded by mindless drones and that most people live life as if they were in a rat race.

    Even the locals seem to agree with me: a high percentage of Brits actually emigrates to other countries when they retire.

    Maybe there is some relation between people having surrendered to being shallow, mindless followers and the easiness with which they are fooled by for-show-only measures.

    Then again, maybe i've become more elitist in the last year...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday September 21, 2007 @04:05AM (#20693631)
    As someone who is in London regularly I can assure you that CCTV obviously cuts crime. On more than one occasion I've encountered crackheads who present themselves as beggers or street dealers (I know, don't buy on the streets. I was young and naive once though!) and they'll do their utmost to try to get you out of the sight of CCTV so they can mug you. Also the CCTV on the tube means it's quite rare for people to get mugged down there and just about the only people who get cause trouble on buses are psychotic or psychopathic.

    So yea, your average street mugger is definitely deterred to some extent by the presence of CCTV.
  • by loic_2003 ( 707722 ) on Friday September 21, 2007 @05:07AM (#20693889) Homepage
    CCTV probably doesn't necessarily prevent crime, but if a criminal is caught (by whatever means), footage of his crime is invaluable in court. I'd like to see the figures comparing sentences of criminals accused of similar crimes, with some having CCTV footage of their crimes and some not. If there's doubt/no proof of their actions in court, they're likely to get away with it.

    I know it's not 'a la mode' in slashdot to consider CCTV useful, but I'd imagine more assholes are put away thanks to it.
  • by maypull ( 845051 ) on Friday September 21, 2007 @06:50AM (#20694281)
    Full disclosure: IUTBAPO (I Used To Be a Police Officer) in the UK. Yeah yeah, on Slashdot that's flamebait and I'll never speak of it again, but I have some valid points to make in response to JCR's post.

    Cameras of the sort used all over the country are run by central control/operations rooms which are manned by civilians employed by the local councils (not cops). They have police radios in the control rooms though so we can speak to them, although they are under no obligation to do as we ask (although in practise, they usually do). There are two points which you may find interesting which I don't think have been mentioned yet:

    1) Normally, the cameras record only one frame every few seconds (presumably so as to not max out their storage on account of the vast number of cameras, heh). Operators cycle through and view them as they see fit depending on the time of day, and if it looks like something's going down, either they or the police can request that a particular camera "go to realtime" recording, so as to capture events at normal speed. However if something such as a mugging happens when the cameras are "idle", if it happens very very quickly it is possible that it won't be recorded at all.

    2) This is the bit that is in response to the parent -- In the event that we (the police) are investigating an incident, we could submit a CCTV request to the control centre, which is a piece of paperwork containing things such as a location, a short description of what (allegedly) happened, and a time bracket. Operators would then go through the recordings manually to try and find it, and if we were lucky it would have been caught on camera, whereupon they would send us a DVD or (more usually) a VCR tape of the relevant parts of the recording. At no time did we, the police, have direct access to the CCTV system, either in a day-to-day sense or in access to the archives.

    I think this is an important point, because it means that the gatekeepers are civilians who are more directly accountable to the elected council representatives, and thus, the people. Of course the usual semi-FUD about cops becoming maniacal power-crazed demons can be half applied to them too, but it makes me think of something I read on /. recently about sysadmins delving through employees emails/files/etc. A semi-prevailing opinion was that while yes, we the admins have the access perms to do it, the cold hard truth is that 99.9% of the time people are boring. What makes you think watching a bunch of people wandering aimlessly around their Saturday shopping is any different?
  • I love statistics (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Tim C ( 15259 ) on Friday September 21, 2007 @07:45AM (#20694509)
    You can use them to "prove" anything.

    Other people have already talked about volume vs percentage, so I'll ask a different question: might it not be that those areas with lots of cameras but no better crime solving rate, are in fact only keeping up with the areas with fewer cameras *because* they have cameras? That is, if you took away the cameras, would their crime solving rate drop even lower?

    Note that I'm no fan of a surveillance society, but I am even more against bogus logic and misuse of statistics. We're supposed to be better than that.
  • by HerbieStone ( 64244 ) on Friday September 21, 2007 @08:57AM (#20695015) Homepage
    In Switzerland almost everyone has a gun and for the purposes of civil defence were compelled to have one, and to generalise, they are fairly well off, have almost no crime and no cameras.

    I'm Swiss. You almost got it right. Let me clarify.

    Switzerlands army is mainly composed of a militia force, which means that every able and healthy man has to serve part-time the military. It is true that everyone in the military brings his arm home. But the ammunition they bring is sealed. The seal would be opened in case of a war. Opening the seal in any other case means you will go to prison.

    Anyway, recently there have been problems having those weapons at home, the most recent and violent event was a man shooting and killing his wife because she wanted divorce him. That is why we are thinking about returning the arms to the military. Since in Switzerland we can initiate to change our own laws i guess in some years we won't have as many arms at home anymore.

    Cheers MadMike

  • by Phat_Tony ( 661117 ) on Friday September 21, 2007 @01:27PM (#20698903)
    I'm no fan of the camera's; but they're only one aspect of Britain's Orwellian Law Enforcement plan. I'm mainly opposed to cameras because I hate the idea of a government surveillance society, not because I believe they're ineffective. Perhaps they are effective, and their deterrent effect is being offset by other crime-increasing policies? [reason.com]

    I think there are important lessons to learn in understanding why London's crime rate has been soaring while New York's has been plummeting, but I don't think we're even close to fully understanding the causes of these trends or their relevant contributions. It's a ripe field for analysis.

    Separately, the information provided in that summary makes the research appear extremely unscientific. This article makes no mention of the changes in clear-up rates over time with the installation of cameras, only comparisons across precincts. But surely there were differences in clear-up rates across precincts before the cameras. At any rate, this article only addresses the cameras in terms of solving crimes, which may be entirely irrelevant to their value if their primary benefit is deterrence.
  • by Zeio ( 325157 ) on Friday September 21, 2007 @11:33PM (#20707743)
    See the Gary Kleck research. You are dead wrong.

    31 of the 33 killed in Virgina by Cho were after the police showed up with armor and SMGs, cringing behind cop cars. One concealed carry would have stopped it.

Nondeterminism means never having to say you are wrong.