International Association of Chiefs of Police

In March 2001, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) published the results of its survey into the use of surveillance cameras by 700 different law enforcement authorities in America. Entitled The Use of CCTV/Video Cameras in Law Enforcement, this report contains some very interesting information.

1. Eighty percent of the respondents said they were already using surveillance cameras, and half of the remaining 20 percent said that they would start using cameras soon.

2. Only 20 percent agree with the claim (often assumed to be true) that surveillance cameras are useful for "reducing crime." As a result, comparatively few respondents used cameras in public places such as subways, parks and public housing developments. (Note well that these are precisely the places in which the NYPD has installed cameras since 1997.)

3. Most respondents (over 60 percent) said that surveillance cameras were useful for "investigative assistance." As a result, the vast majority of cameras were used in police cars or interrogation rooms in police stations.

4. Slightly more than half (54 percent) said that cameras were helpful in "gathering evidence." But what kind of evidence? Significantly, the evidence most often gathered wasn't "positive" or "offensive" (proof that someone under arrest did in fact commit the crime he or she is accused of committing), but "negative" or "defensive" (proof that a police officer did not coerce, abuse or kill someone under arrest, despite claims to the contrary).

5. None of the recommendations made by the respondents -- limit overall use of video surveillance, use it only under controlled parameters, use it only under conditions where there is no expectation of privacy, and notify citizens when they are under surveillance or being recorded -- are being followed in such cities as Chicago, New York and Boston.

6. Slightly more than half (54 percent) said that their camera-watchers received no formal training whatsoever, despite the fact that the IACP says "appropriate training is crucial to ensure the proper operation and performance of CCTV [closed-circuit television] equipment, especially when tapes may be used as evidence for prosecution."

7. Slightly more than half (53 percent) said that they had no formal written guidelines or policies to govern the use of surveillance cameras, despite the fact that the Security Industry Association has strongly recommended the adoption of such guidelines and has even suggested key provisions concerning community involvement and the training and education of watchers.

8. More than one-third (37 percent) of camera-watchers are civilian employees, not police officers, despite the fact that the IACP says "involvement of non-police personnel in maintaining and operating the CCTV system could compromise the effectiveness of the evidence in court."

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