ineffectiveness of surveillance cameras

last update: 17 June 2009

We are told that surveillance cameras are "effective" crime-fighting tools because they deter and/or record evidence of criminal activity. But this information is false: deterrence only works on some people, not others; the cameras don't function properly on a consistent basis. One only has to keep up with the news being reported from around the world, which is precisely what we plan to do here, on this page, in chronological order. (Click here for a listing of outright abuses of camera technology, and here for a listing of protests against surveillance cameras.)


14 August 2002, England: CCTV 'not a crime deterrent.' Critics say effectiveness of CCTV is "overstated".

CCTV is not as useful in the fight against crime as was previously thought, according to government research. The cameras, which have been placed at the heart of crime prevention policy, may be more effective as a detection tool than as a deterrent, researchers found. The report - which looked at evaluations of 22 CCTV schemes in Britain and the US - found that while cameras could have a marked effect on reducing vehicle crime, there was little evidence they prevented violent crime. Spending on CCTV accounts for three-quarters of the money available for crime prevention. Some 170 million Pounds Sterling has been allocated to them for the period 1999-2003.

The Home Office-commissioned report said: "Overall, it can be concluded that CCTV reduces crime to a small degree. An evidence-based approach to crime prevention which uses the highest level of science available offers the strongest formula for building a safer society."

A second report on the impact of street lighting considered 13 schemes, and concluded that better illumination could be a cheap way of cutting illegal activity, especially in crime hotspots. Home Office minister John Denham said the study confirmed "that the government has got it right in using a package of crime prevention measures to tackle crime and the fear crime. Increasingly CCTV plays an important role not just in deterring crime, but in detecting it," he added. "We will continue to evaluate how we can make best use of CCTV and street lighting, whether it's to reduce fear of crime for the public or to provide valuable evidence for the police."

At the end of June a report by the National Association for the Criminal Rehabilitation of Offenders (NACRO) said cameras had little effect on crimes against the person, including assault. It said CCTV was more useful for preventing property crime, including car theft and burglary. The Nacro report warned against over-investing in the cameras at the expense of "more effective measures" such as street lights.

Rachel Armitage, of its crime and social policy unit, said: "It would be foolish to claim that well planned CCTV can never have an impact but the effectiveness of CCTV is often overstated."

19 October 2003, Scotland, CCTV proves "useless" in fight against shoplifting by Jenifer Johnston.

Retailers have been warned that relying on CCTV cameras to protect their goods is useless as shoplifters are now so good at stealing they are hardly bothered by the surveillance. Shoplifting and retail crime cost the Scottish economy 166 million Pounds a year, with the proceeds mainly being spent on drugs, but experts are now claiming that high-profile video cameras offer shops little protection.

Jerry Hart, a consultant in retail crime, studied video footage from convicted shop-lifters and had them retrace their steps, fitted with covert cameras, to see if they could get away with shoplifting again. In the controlled experiment dozens of thieves came away unchallenged and unrecorded in their efforts to take goods without paying for them from shops across the UK. Hart said: "CCTV is useless in terms of loss prevention. We fitted out offenders with cameras and watched them as they stole -- not one of them was stopped or challenged by staff in high street stores. They simply go out of sight of CCTV cameras and conceal what they are stealing. Often they will work in pairs with one person acting suspiciously as a decoy while the other hides the goods on their person in a camera blindspot. CCTV's only function is to provide evidence for the police should the shoplifter be caught."

Hart and other experts will tell a major conference this week at the University of Leicester that retailers would be better spending their security budget on training workers at the tills to spot suspicious behaviour than on expensive surveillance equipment. Hart added: "If staff in a store say 'hello' to each customer, then dedicated shoplifters will immediately become paranoid that they have been rumbled and leave the store. But stores want easy technology instead of having to train staff in loss prevention."

Professor Joshua Bamfield of the Centre for Retail Research, in Nottingham, also addressing the conference, claims that even if offenders are caught then the chances of shop-keepers seeing them in court are practically nil. He said: "Across the UK police only attend about one third of the cases of shoplifting they are called to. In certain big department stores staff actually limit their calls to the police for the most serious or costly incidents that they encounter. In the UK every year 650,000 shoplifters are arrested -- the problem is that the retailer ends up with a shoplifter sitting in their security room and if the police choose not to attend, then the retailer is risking an assault charge by detaining them or forcibly taking them to a police station."

Bamfield also called for the Civil Recovery Scheme, which has faltered in Scotland, to be reviewed because of the slow court system. "Shoplifting is a real crime but only about 15% of shoplifters in Scotland go before a court. Retailers, however, would like to see every shoplifter go to court, but to do that would absolutely cripple the courts system. It seems that you either have to let people off or pursue them through civil recovery schemes -- and they are not effective enough at the moment to act as a deterrent."

Hart added that the shoplifting experiment he carried out would frighten most managers thinking about how to protect their stock. "As well as dismissing CCTV, shoplifters are very disparaging towards security guards – they are not regarded as a threat at all. Most are employed to stop violence towards members of staff, not to be heroes. In all honesty, stores would be better off putting money into drug rehabilitation schemes."

Earlier this month the Scottish Retail Consortium revealed that store theft and other retail crime costs every household in Scotland 83 million Pounds a year. Glasgow is the worst affected city in Scotland, losing 28 million a year to shoplifters, a 7 percent rise since 2000. Edinburgh came second in the stakes for losses due to shoplifting, losing 22.2 million Pounds' worth of goods and Aberdeen third with 12.8 million Pounds.

Elinor Jayne, spokeswoman for the SRC, said Hart and Bamfield were right to criticise CCTV. "CCTV should not be the only thing that stores rely on because shoplifters obviously go to huge efforts to gain from their acts. I think that a lot of retailers are reluctant to call the police because it incurs a high cost for their staff; they have to leave to make statements and then to go to court as witnesses. Shops just can't afford that kind of staff time away."

21 October 2003, Newport, Kentucky Newport downsizes security camera plans. Cost for project deemed too high, by Mike Rutledge.

Newport police two years ago announced plans to install surveillance cameras linked to the city building via wireless technology in strategic locations across the city. But costs and reliability concerns have forced the city to significantly scale back those plans. The city now will use the $38,099 in local law enforcement block grant, plus the required $4,233 city match, to install cameras to monitor the city building and nearby city streets.

"We had the public hearing back in 2001 with the idea of getting surveillance cameras in certain parts of the community," City Manager Phil Ciafardini said Monday night. "That didn't pan out as they would have liked. They made the decision that we could go ahead and utilize some cameras in the 900 block of Monmouth [Street], so we'd have additional cameras on this building here," he said.

During a public hearing two years ago, Chief Tom Fromme declined to name exact locations for the wireless cameras. But he said he hoped to buy 10 cameras. Among possible sites that were discussed at that time were Ralph Mussman Park, which sometimes is vandalized, and the River Walk area. The cameras were to be encased in heated, vandal-proof boxes and would allow operators to zoom in on suspicious activity.

"After researching the existing technology that is currently available to us, we determined that the cost is prohibitive," and the cameras are "not entirely reliable," Fromme wrote this month. "Due to these factors, we had to abandon the concept of this type of technology at the current time. As a substitute for wireless cameras, the city also considered using remote cameras that were linked to the city building by wires, but the cost was 'prohibitive,' and the city faced a deadline to use the grant funds," Fromme wrote.

Commissioners unanimously approved the new plan. A few years ago, tape from existing video cameras around the city building was used to identify someone who vandalized a tree on city property. The suspect was arrested.

12 December 2003, England: CCTV 'no answer to street fights'.

CCTV schemes in town centres do not stop drunken street violence breaking out, according to new research. But cameras do alert police to assaults and reduce the number of people treated at casualty departments. Scientists also say CCTV has reduced the severity of injuries suffered in street brawls. But the study, published in the Injury Prevention journal, concludes there is no evidence of the surveillance systems having a deterrent effect. It says: "The benefit of CCTV might lie less in preventing such offences . . . but more in facilitating a faster police response to arguments or assaults in public spaces, which limits their duration and therefore reduces the incidence and seriousness of injury."

Experts from the University Hospital of Cardiff, who carried out the research, also concluded official police statistics on violent crime were inadequate and "inappropriate". They found police statistics recorded only a quarter of assaults leading to treatment in casualty departments.

The authors of the study say it was the first to compare police and hospital data and that its four year time span was longer than other CCTV evaluations. They studied police reports of street violence from 1995 to 1999 in five randomly chosen towns where CCTV was installed in 1997 - Ashford, Eastbourne, Lincoln, Newport in the Isle of Wight and Peterborough. The data was compared with towns that had no surveillance cameras at the time - Chelmsford, Poole, Derby, Scarborough and Huntingdon. They then checked casualty department records for the treatments of assaults over the same period.

In the areas with CCTV the number of people treated for injuries after assaults fell by 3 percent, while the number of violent offences detected by police rose by 11 percent. In the towns not covered by CCTV the numbers needing treatment rose 11 percent, but violent offences detected by police remained the same. The research paper concluded that, if CCTV surveillance did act as a deterrent, police detection rates would have fallen.

Co-author Jonathan Shepherd, a professor of oral and maxillofacial surgery, said: "The evidence shows you can't rely on police violence statistics as an accurate measure of violence in the community. True measures have got to take into account injury data from local hospitals as well as police information."

The findings echo government research published last year that concluded CCTV was not as useful in the fight against crime as was previously thought. That research also concluded that better illumination could be a cheap way of cutting illegal activity, especially in crime hotspots.

4 March 2004, Charlotte, North Carolina: Neighborhood Cameras On The Blink.

Police in Charlotte say a program they hoped would help them cut crime has fizzled. The department spent $26,000 on new cameras they intended to use for surveillance in Charlotte neighborhoods, but police say the cameras don't work. The portable surveillance cameras were intended to record criminal activity in some of the city's roughest areas.

"Has it helped you?" asked reporter Jim Bradley. "No, not at all. It's been virtually useless to us at this point," said Sgt. Bud Cesena. Few are more frustrated than Cesena, who researched the department's purchase of five cameras. Hopes were high when dozens of officers attended a training session last November. Police were eager to set up cameras inside houses along troubled streets like Greenland Avenue.

Resident Louise Smith says she's seen prostitution for years. "In the mornings, early at night (and) sometimes late at night. They throw paper, their clothes, whatever . . . nasty things in the yard," Smith said. Police thought the neighborhood cameras would be the perfect solution to the prostitution problem. They set one up to watch the area 24 hours a day last month. After three weeks, they thought they had rock solid evidence to prosecute.

"We shot alleged prostitutes going up to cars . . . vehicles . . . John's," Cesena said. "You had the whole ball of wax?" Bradley asked. "And we came back and it's not downloadable," Cesena said. Hours of evidence was lost and thousands of city dollars were wasted because police say when they've tried to use them, either the cameras or the computers that drive them won't work.

The company that sold police the cameras is called Eyecom. Sales manager Jeff Holmes said he would come to Charlotte himself. "It's not a situation where we're trying to pass off a bunch of junk to them. I want to make this right," Holmes said.

Police fighting crime on the city's most notorious streets hope they can. "We'd love to have the cameras working so we could see what the potential is and find more uses for them," said Sgt. Len Gigante. Police say they'll demand a refund and buy new cameras from someone else if Eyecom doesn't fix the cameras. The department still believes the neighborhood cameras can have a major impact on crime in many areas of Charlotte.

14 April 2004, Melbourne, Australia: City crime cameras face the axe by Royce Millar.

Melbourne City Council last night voted to dump its network of 23 security cameras after councillors argued the cameras had failed miserably to prevent crime. Greens councillor David Risstrom led the charge against the cameras and said the half a million dollars they cost each year would be better spent on police presence. "This system is costing us hundreds of thousands of dollars each year, yet all of the research shows that the cameras don't make people safe in the city, nor do they deter crime," he said. Cr Risstrom successfully called for the suspension of the camera network at a meeting of the council's safety and health committee.

But the decision, which has angered police, is expected to be reviewed at a meeting of the full council in a fortnight. After last night's meeting a frustrated police superintendent, Michael Williams, said he was disappointed by the decision. He said the camera program "has proven to be a very effective crime detection tool for the Victoria Police".

A consultant's report on the cameras found they played a "significant role" in crime detection and that the police used them as a "front-line crime detection tool". Police told the consultants that they responded to observed crime in almost 100 per cent of cases. But the consultants found insufficient evidence that the cameras actually deterred crime. They also found that the cameras were "not perceived to be a strong contributing factor to people feeling safe in the CBD".

Cr Kevin Chamberlain backed the suspension. "The fundamental problem is that the research shows the cameras don't work, yet we're spending more than half a million dollars a year just to run them." He said he recently saw two drug deals in one of the most heavily monitored locations in the city. He said drug dealers simply ignored the cameras.

Under council rules, committees have the power to make policy. However councillors may refer decisions to the full council if they want them overturned. Cr Tony Nicholson, the chairman of the safety committee, said he would challenge last night's 4-3 decision. He is expected to be backed by Lord Mayor John So. The committee last night was considering a $250,000 upgrade of the network of cameras, which operate 24 hours a day.

The surveillance of public space in Victoria began in 1979 when the council installed four cameras - to much public opposition. The number jumped to 24 in 1982 when the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting was held in Melbourne. Ten cameras were installed in King Street in 1997 after a surge in crime in the nightclub district. The 23 remaining cameras are monitored by council employees at Melbourne Town Hall. Footage of serious incidents is relayed to the police.

24 February 2005, Leceistershire, England: CCTV systems 'fail to cut crime' by BBC News.

Most CCTV fails to cut crime or make people feel safer, according to a research study. Experts at the University of Leicester studied 14 systems across the country on behalf of the Home Office. They found only one area saw a drop in the number of incidents which could be attributed to CCTV. Professor Martin Gill, from the university, said: "Overall, areas have encountered real difficulties in using CCTV to good effect."

The study showed the only crime decrease attributable to CCTV focussed on reducing vehicle crime in car parks. Systems covered by the research included those in town centres, city centres, hospitals and residential areas. Professor Gill, from the university's criminology department, said: "For supporters of CCTV these findings are disappointing. For the most part CCTV did not produce reductions in crime and it did not make people feel safer."

Researchers said control room operation was an important factor in a CCTV system's ability to detect crime. About half of the control rooms involved were staffed for less than 24 hours a day. Professor Gill said: "The truth is that CCTV is a powerful tool that society is only just beginning to understand. It looks simple to use, but it is not. It has many components, and they can impact in different ways. It is more than just a technical solution; it requires human intervention to work to maximum efficiency and the problems it helps deal with are complex."

25 April 2005, Cardiff, Wales: City cameras 'don't cut crime' by Jenny Rees, Western Mail.

CCTV does not reduce violent crime, according to new research, but the big brother cameras could be saving lives as the number of people needing medical attention falls. Researchers in Cardiff have found that although the cameras in town centres are not acting as a deterrent for attackers, they allow police officers to respond to incidents more quickly, reducing the number of people who attend hospital accident and emergency departments. Cardiff University's Violence Research Group found that there has been a significant fall in serious violence, with Wales seeing a greater fall than England -- 20%, compared to 13% over the border. This was despite conflicting statistics released last week -- the British Crime Survey for 2004 showed violent crime down 10% on last year, whereas separate quarterly figures showed a 9% increase in violent crime recorded by the police in the final three months of 2004 compared with the same period of 2003.

The Cardiff University group analysed figures for assault related injuries from a representative sample of 32 major A&E departments in England and Wales. The study also looked at the effectiveness of CCTV surveillance in preventing violence, and the reliability of police statistics as a measure of violent crime. The study found that an estimated 25,700 fewer people attended major accident and emergency departments after violence-related injury in England in 2004 compared with 2000 and 2,800 fewer in Wales. The greatest decreases in England and Wales were observed in 2004.

Prof Jonathan Shepherd, director of the Violence Research Group at Cardiff University and a consultant face and jaw surgeon said, "Prevention of violence- related injury is a major public health priority. These results represent a clear reduction in harm across all age groups and both genders." The installation of city centre CCTV was followed by an increase in police detection of violence and disorder, and a decrease in serious violence, according to injury data.

Prof Shepherd said, "These findings indicate that police statistics are not a reliable measure of violence. Effectiveness of CCTV probably lies less in preventing assaults and their precursors, but more in preventing injury through detection and rapid intervention by the police, thereby reducing burdens on A&E departments. Not surprisingly, if you have 180 cameras in the city centre and police officers monitoring screens day and night, 365 days a year, they find out about more crime and violence and disorder, so from a police standpoint the number of crimes goes up, because they find more. But the officers who monitor the screens are in constant touch with patrols in the area and their response can be very rapid, so that they break up an argument before an injury or serious injury is caused. If the police get there, there has still been a disorder but the person is not seriously hurt. The parallel is in the school playground. If a teacher gets to a fight or argument early then no harm is done, but the incident is still recorded."

Prof Shepherd added, "That leads us to say overall police statistics on violence are not an accurate reflection, because in our study increased police detection was accompanied by fewer attendances at A&E for treatment. We think that police violence statistics are a poor barometer of violence and the British Crime Survey is a far more accurate reflection." Besides reducing attendance at A&E, Prof Shepherd added that in turn the pressure on NHS staff may have been reduced as there were likely to be fewer anti-social incidents at hospitals and fewer admissions.

13 August 2006, Washington, DC, USA: Spy cameras fail to focus on street crime by Matthew Cella, The Washington Times.

Surveillance cameras like those authorized by the D.C. Council for police investigations and now being put in place have shown limited success in decreasing violent crime in other cities. Baltimore, for example, set up about 80 cameras in May 2005 in high-crime neighborhoods. Volunteers and retired law-enforcement personnel monitor the images in real time, but the cameras have not helped put criminals behind bars.

"Generally, the State's Attorney's Office has not found them to be a useful tool to prosecutors," office spokeswoman Margaret Burns said. "They're good for circumstantial evidence, but it definitely isn't evidence we find useful to convict somebody of a crime." Miss Burns said Baltimore prosecutors kept detailed statistics from the first nine months of the camera program. Most of the 500 cases forwarded to prosecutors were quality-of-life crimes, she said, and 40 percent of those cases were dropped by prosecutors or dismissed by the courts. "We have not used any footage to resolve a violent-crime case," she said. Miss Burns said police sometimes misidentify suspects because the cameras produce "grainy" and "blurry" images. "We have had that happen more than once," she said.

The D.C. Council, faced with a sharp increase in crime, passed emergency legislation July 19 that allows the Metropolitan Police Department to use surveillance cameras in neighborhoods as part of an emergency plan. D.C. workers on Thursday began installing the first four of an expected 47 cameras throughout the city. Officials said the four cameras are temporary and will be replaced by permanent ones later this month. About 24 cameras will be deployed by the end of August, and 23 more will be added in September, police said.

Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey is required to notify only two persons about plans to place a camera in any given neighborhood: an advisory neighborhood commissioner and the appropriate council member. The cameras will operate 24 hours a day, but police will review the images only when a known crime may have been recorded.

Chicago deployed a few dozen cameras in neighborhoods in July 2003. Authorities there captured their first drug transaction 19 months later, in February 2005. Police arrested three suspects and confiscated 12 packets of heroin. However, the cameras have not helped in criminal investigations.

"From my perspective, I would love it if we had footage of the murderer leaving the house, but that hasn't happened yet," said Kevin Smith, a spokesman for Chicago's Office of Emergency Management and Communications, which administers and monitors the 170-camera network.

Police in San Francisco said a camera paid off in an investigation for the first time in June, when they arrested a man in connection with a shooting in April. Nine months after the first cameras were installed in neighborhoods, a camera captured the image of a man getting out of a car. The man subsequently shot at another man and missed, injuring a 13-year-old girl. The image was not recorded, but police said the camera was key to the investigation.

Surveillance cameras also have generated headlines for the wrong reasons. In April 2005, a San Francisco police officer was suspended from the department for using surveillance cameras to ogle women at San Francisco International Airport.

New York officials say surveillance cameras in public-housing projects have led to substantial decreases in crime. Written policies and random audits help guard the system against abuse, but that proved ineffective when the tape of a 22-year-old man who fatally shot himself in the lobby of a housing project in March 2004 surfaced on a pornographic Web site.

Critics argue that cameras only push criminals into unobserved areas. A University of Cincinnati study in 2000 concluded that surveillance cameras have a short-term deterrent effect, which likely would increase when the public is notified about their presence. Cameras in Baltimore, Chicago, New York and San Francisco are labeled as police property. No police department logos are affixed to the D.C. cameras that were in place before the recently crime emergency. D.C. police spokesman Kevin Morison said police are required to post signs indicating that an area is under surveillance. He could not say whether such notification would be required under a clause dealing with "exigent" circumstances. Mr. Morison said several neighborhood leaders have requested cameras.

Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the District-based Electronic Privacy Information Center, said he has heard neighborhood leaders express approval of the cameras at hearings but is not sure whether most residents share that support.

"It's very difficult to get a clear read on whether this is something that residents really want," Mr. Rotenberg said. "I don't think people understand that if you put these cameras in residential communities, you're talking about a telescopic lens that can zoom in and a 360-degree casing that can look into your bedroom."

5 December 2006, Australia: Violence defies Big Bro by Greg Stolz and Cameron Atfield, The Courier Mail.

Big Brother is watching you -- but it is unlikely he will stop you getting mugged.

New research by Bond and Griffith universities has questioned the value of security cameras in curbing crime. Despite authorities spending millions of dollars on an all-pervasive network of surveillance cameras, a two-year study has found that while they help solve crime, they do little to prevent it.

"CCTV (closed-circuit television) is now a multimillion-dollar business, used by councils, police departments, government authorities, transport departments and private businesses to monitor a wide range of activities," Bond University criminologist Paul Wilson said. "It is often the first thing politicians ask for when there is a crime problem in their area. However, it may not necessarily be the best method . . . of preventing crime."

University researchers studied the effectiveness of security cameras in Surfers Paradise and Broadbeach, and at major train stations in and around Brisbane. Helene Wells, senior research officer at Bond's criminology department, said crime rates were actually higher at five of the railway stations monitored by cameras, but this was probably because of increased detection due to the surveillance. Ms Wells said cameras did "very little" to prevent violent crimes, although they were useful in stopping them from escalating. She said the strength of the cameras lay in their ability to help solve crime by gathering evidence. They were also effective in helping control crowds at large events such as Schoolies festival and the Gold Coast Indy, she said.

Professor Wilson said the effectiveness of security cameras could be improved by paying more attention to where they were placed and how monitoring was conducted. Of almost 900 people surveyed about their views on CCTV as part of the study, about 85 per cent did not believe the cameras were an invasion of privacy. But Professor Wilson said he was "disturbed" about public apathy towards the cameras. "It seems to me that Big Brother is everywhere and, personally, I'm concerned that people aren't more concerned about privacy," he said.

Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson had not seen the report, but said he was "uncomfortable" with its publicised findings. "Without implying any criticism of the report, one of the difficulties with prevention is that you never, never know -- it's measuring what never happens." Mr Atkinson said CCTV was a helpful tool for solving crimes. "I've got to say I'm a strong supporter of closed-circuit television and, with greatest respect to the report and the findings, the jury may still be out on the preventative aspect," he said.

21 September 2007, London, England: "CCTV Cameras Don't Solve Crimes, Say London Politicians. The city has over 10,000 publicly funded CCTV cameras in public areas, but only one in five crimes are solved," by Peter Sayer, IDG News Service.

Surveillance cameras in London are not helping solve crime, according to local politicians. The city has over 10,000 publicly funded CCTV cameras in public areas, but only one in five crimes are solved, said Dee Doocey, a spokeswoman for the Liberal Democrats political party on the London Assembly, the elected body which determines transport and policing policy for London's 32 boroughs and the City of London itself. Using figures obtained from the London boroughs, the Metropolitan Police Service and public transport authorities through Freedom of Information Act requests, the Liberal Democrats compared the number of crimes solved in each borough with the number of CCTV cameras installed there.

"Our figures show that there is no link between a high number of CCTV cameras and a better crime clear-up rate," she said. "Boroughs with thousands of CCTV cameras are no better at doing so than those which have a few dozen."

Proponents of CCTV's usefulness usually focus on its role in preventing crime, rather than solving it. But although the cameras across London's public transport system allowed police officers to identify within a few days those responsible for the July 7, 2005, tube-train bombings in the city, the cameras did nothing to prevent the attack. And a detailed study of 14 public CCTV installations in a 2005 report by the Home Office Research, Development and Statistics Directorate, "Assessing the impact of CCTV," concluded that "the CCTV schemes that have been assessed had little overall effect on crime levels."

Over the last decade, London's CCTV cameras have cost taxpayers there around 200 million pounds ($401 million), Doocey said, calling for a broader debate on the city's policing.

15 January 2008, Sweden: "Big Brother Techniques Fail," Sveriges Radio.

Surveillance does not stop crime -- that's according to a report from the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention. Currently there are approximately 2100 permits for surveillance cameras in Stockholm alone, a number which increases by 10 percent every year. According to an article in the Stockholm City newspaper the results were based on over 40 different research reports from four different countries. The only place where surveillance was found to have a significant impact was in car park stations where crime had fallen by 51% after surveillance was introduced.

19 Janauary 2008, England: "Police admit drunks not deterred by CCTV," by Rosa Prince, The Telegraph.

Surveillance cameras do little, if anything, to prevent late night alcohol-fuelled crime and violence on Britain's high streets, the country's most senior police officer in the field has admitted. Graeme Gerrard, head of CCTV at the Association of Chief Police Officers, said that although Britain was now a virtual surveillance state, cameras usually failed to act as a deterrent for drunken yobs. He told a parliamentary committee that while other countries were astonished at the scale to which Britons were snooped on by the authorities, the evidence suggested CCTV had little impact on levels of late-night violence. He also admitted the public had been "misled" into believing that installing camera systems would have a big impact on anti-social behaviour.

Around 200 million hPounds as been spent on erecting more than four million CCTV cameras across the country over the past 10 years, leading the Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, recently to talk about "Surveillance Britain". Ministers have repeatedly stressed the benefits of CCTV on the grounds that they act as a deterrent.

But speaking to the Lords constitution committee, Mr Gerrard, deputy chief constable of the Cheshire constabulary, said: "Most of the pressure [for CCTV] comes from the public. Some of them may get disappointed when the CCTV goes in that actually... it doesn't deter most crime. I think they are perhaps misled in terms of the amount of crime that CCTV might prevent. Before CCTV can effectively deter people, they need to know the cameras are there. They have got to be thinking about the consequences of their behaviour. It is very effective in places like car parks, where offenders are going out to break into cars, and are thinking rationally. In terms of town centres, where a lot of the behaviour is violent behaviour, often fuelled by alcohol, people aren't thinking rationally. They get angry, the CCTV is the last thing they are thinking about. Even the presence of police officers doesn't deter the disorder on the street, so cameras are unlikely to deter them."

David Davis, the shadow home secretary, said the Government had undermined civil liberties for no apparent reason. Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrats' home affairs spokesman, added: "We need to seriously rethink our gung-ho enthusiasm for the surveillance on every street corner in the country."

A recent Home Office study found that 80 per cent of images from CCTV cameras were of such poor quality that they were worthless as evidence. To combat the problem, Mr Gerrard said he would like all camera owners and operators to be required by law to produce high quality images using a standardised system so the police could use them effectively in court.

21 March 2008, New York City, USA: "200 surveillance cameras at Van Dyke houses fail to stop rape suspect," by Dorian Block, Veronika Belenkaya and Alison Gendar, The Daily News.

Once again a rapist was caught on videotape, and once again cops failed to see him, police sources said Thursday. A 19-year-old woman was raped at knifepoint inside the Van Dyke houses in Brooklyn early Thursday - a housing complex with more than 200 cameras supposedly monitored around the clock by the NYPD. Sources told the Daily News that at least one video camera recorded the rapist grabbing the young woman and pulling her into an elevator. The suspect hustled the young woman out of the elevator and raped her in a stairwell landing of the Brownsville complex, sources said. The actual sexual assault was not caught on video, police said.

"What he did is the worst thing to do to someone," the victim's aunt said. "He is a monster, this man."

Police officials believe the attacker is the same man who raped a 30-year-old woman March 6 in the housing complex. In both cases, the man wielded a knife and dragged his victim to a stairway landing. Both times he made similar threats, saying, "Don't scream, don't fight or I'll stab you," sources said. The 30-year-old victim told police she recognized the man from the neighborhood, which is why her guard was down. What horrified residents was that in both cases, the rapist, if not the violent attack, was caught on video. The suspect who raped the woman March 6 was on camera for nearly 30 minutes, sources said. Roughly 224 cameras feed live video to 30 small TV monitors. Each camera's image flashes for only seven seconds.

Deputy Police Commissioner Paul Browne said the actual sex assault was not filmed. He said there was no indiction that any suspicious action was transmitted in the seven-second bursts. Police released a video image of the suspect - and offered a $12,000 reward for his capture. The video monitors are staffed mostly by cops who are on medical leave or face disciplinary action and cannot carry a weapon. The officers, in the so-called viper units, call other cops to respond to criminal activity.

"It's mind-numbing, and actually difficult, to watch 30, 40, 50 cameras, all flashing different images every five to seven seconds," said a cop familiar with the system. "It's bad for the residents, it's bad for the cops."

Police asked anyone with information about the suspect to call Crime Stoppers at (800) 577-8477.

21 March 2008, Dallas County, Texas: "Repeat offender shows surveillance cameras' limitations," by Tanya Eiserer, The Dallas Morning News.

Police officials know Bennie Nichols well. In Dallas County, he has been convicted of breaking into cars at least 16 times since 2002. He was convicted of car burglary three times last year and served 108 days in jail. Mr. Nichols has been officially listed as an "impact offender," meaning Dallas police are trying to get him more time in jail if he gets in trouble again.

"Every detective in this office is aware of Bennie Nichols," said Sgt. Geraldine White, a supervisor in the Central Patrol investigative unit. "He's somebody that we would like to put in jail and keep there."

But Mr. Nichols' case shows the limitations of surveillance cameras. Downtown surveillance video twice led to Mr. Nichols' arrest over a three-week period in December and January. But police have not been able to make a case in either. On Dec. 27, a city worker monitoring downtown cameras saw a man carrying a black bag and pacing around a parking lot. A recording of the incident shows the man walk up to the driver's door of a black Dodge Magnum and set his bag on the ground. With his back to the door, he fumbles around, using some kind of tool on the door. The man then walks out of the camera's line of sight. Police officers quickly arrived and arrested Mr. Nichols, who matched the description of the suspected burglar. They found that Mr. Nichols had a 10-inch screwdriver. But police said they haven't been able to file a case against Mr. Nichols because they don't have a complainant: The vehicle's owner never replied when they attempted to contact her.

In mid-January, police officers responded to a burglary at another downtown parking lot. A witness had reported seeing a man standing next to a Ford Escape who appeared to be prying on the driver's door with a tool. A city worker monitoring downtown cameras also spotted a man who matched the witness's description. Officers captured the man, who was identified as Mr. Nichols. Mr. Nichols was carrying a crack pipe, a green bag containing 13 pennies, a screwdriver and some glass police believe came from a broken car window, police records state. Terrell Oxford, the Ford's owner, said the burglar had done at least $700 in damage to his car. He said the thief had gotten a total of 13 cents from the center console. Officers returned the pennies to Mr. Oxford.

"They described to me how they caught the guy and pointed at the cameras," Mr. Oxford said. "The police were all over this within minutes." But police again could not make a case against Mr. Nichols. The actual break-in wasn't caught on camera, and the witness could not identify Mr. Nichols.

21 March 2008, San Francisco, California: "City's crime cameras shortsighted," by Will Reisman, The Examiner.

Cameras in The City have little effect in deterring crime on violent street corners, according to a new study. Seventy-four cameras have been installed in some of the San Francisco's most dangerous neighborhoods as city officials battle with an increasing homicide rate that was just two short of hitting triple digits last year. Homicides within 250 feet of the cameras were eradicated. However, homicides in areas from 250 feet to 500 feet increased.

"It shows that if people are going to commit a crime they can just go around the corner from a camera to do it," police Commissioner Joseph Alioto-Veronese said. "This system will only work if we plan on having a camera every 100 feet, which is just not realistic."

The study, conducted by UC Berkeley and paid for by The City, showed a 22 percent decrease in property crimes within 100 feet of the cameras, but the only other nominal drop -- homicides within 250 feet falling from seven cases to zero -- was offset by an increase in homicides, from two to nine, in areas 250 feet to 500 feet from the cameras. Other violent crimes studied, including assault, robbery and forcible sex offenses, showed little variation when comparing rates before and after the installation of the cameras.

"When violent crimes are lumped together, evidence shows that the cameras had little overall effect," the report stated of the $900,000 surveillance program, which has been in place for two and a half years. The surveillance study examined 59,706 incidents occurring within 1,000 feet of 68 crime cameras in San Francisco. The cameras were bunched in 19 locations. The study, which compared average daily crime trends from periods before and after the installation of the cameras, was a preliminary report, with more data expected to follow in the coming months.

The results did not sway the resolve of Mayor Gavin Newsom, who has advocated for 25 new cameras -- at the cost of $200,000 -- to join the current fleet.

"Our commitment to crime cameras is unwavering, and we remain dedicated to expanding this program," mayoral spokesman Nathan Ballard said. Alioto-Veronese said funding should go into improving the quality of the existing cameras so they can more clearly capture images within their range -- a tool that would be effective for prosecuting criminals in court.

In 2006, the Board of Supervisors passed a resolution requiring police to give updates on crime statistics gathered from the cameras. The report was the first detailed analysis released.

In brief

Cameras: 68
Locations: 19
Neighborhoods: Mission, Excelsior, Western Addition, Tenderloin, Lower Haight
Crimes studied: Larceny, burglary, motor-vehicle theft, homicide, assault, robbery, forcible sex offenses
Biggest decrease: Larcenies within 200 feet of camera (from .031 cases a day to .023)
Biggest increase: Assaults 200 to 400 feet from camera (from .018 cases a day to .024)

Source: UC Berkeley study

7 May 2008, London, England: "Britain's multi-billion-pound CCTV network 'an utter fiasco which has failed to cut crime,'" by Craig Brown, The Scotsman.

Britain's network of CCTV cameras has been branded "an utter fiasco" for failing to cut crime, despite billions of pounds being spent on it. Detective Chief Inspector Mick Neville, who is in charge of closed-circuit television for the Metropolitan Police Force, claimed only 3 per cent of the capital's street robberies are solved using security camera footage and criminals are not afraid of being caught on film. The UK has the highest level of camera surveillance in the world, according to civil liberty groups and security experts, with an estimated 4.2 million CCTV cameras on buildings, shops, roads and stations.

Mr Neville told the Security Document World Conference in London: "CCTV was originally seen as a preventative measure. Billions of pounds has been spent on kit, but no thought has gone into how the police are going to use the images and how they will be used in court. It's been an utter fiasco."

His comments echo a government report last October which said most CCTV footage is not of high enough quality to help police identify offenders, with many cameras focused on enforcing bus lanes as well as stopping crime. The report said anecdotal evidence suggests more than 80 per cent of CCTV images supplied to the police are not up to scratch.

Mr Neville, who is head of the Metropolitan police's division on visual images, identifications and detection, is now leading an initiative to increase conviction rates from CCTV. He aims to set up a database of images to track down offenders and to put pictures of suspects in crimes such as muggings and rape on the internet. Mr Neville said the work "has to be balanced against any Big Brother concerns, with safeguards". Work is under way to ascertain whether software can be developed to perform automated searches for suspects on footage, while Mr Neville said officers needed more training on using CCTV, with many being put off because "it's hard work".

Last night, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Police said the force "does not consider that CCTV has failed". He added: "CCTV is an important tool in protecting the public both as a deterrent and in the investigation of a wide range of crime, from minor offences to terrorism." Assistant Chief Constable John Pollock, of the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland (Acpos), also gave his support for CCTV. He said: "Acpos fully supports the use of CCTV and stresses its important role both in the prevention and detection of crime in protecting our communities. Recently reported comments of the effectiveness of CCTV paint a view not reflected by experience in Scotland, where police forces actively use evidence gathered by CCTV whenever possible."

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said it would continue to use the system in crime prevention. She said: "This government is committed to making our communities safer by tackling crime and the fear of crime. Clearly, technology such as CCTV systems can have a role to play in helping to achieve this, and is a tool used by the police to investigate crime, gather intelligence about problem areas, monitor crowds and tackle antisocial behaviour. We are currently working on research to give better information on the coverage and use of CCTV in our communities."

The spokeswoman added that the government was working to put more than 1,000 additional police officers on the streets to tackle the drink, drugs and deprivation which are the underlying causes of crime.

The Scottish Government's CCTV review is due to be completed in July. It will examine how many cameras are in use and the system's effectiveness in deterrence, detection and evidence gathering.

Though considered a phenomenon of the modern age, the origins of CCTV cameras can be traced to the Second World War. They were first developed to allow German engineers to observe the launch of V2 rockets. In the UK, CCTV, though initially used for security by banks, was developed on a larger scale in response to IRA bombings. Trial programmes carried out by the government during the early 1990s led to the report "CCTV: Looking Out For You", which paved the way for the massive increase in the number of CCTV systems installed.

The proliferation of cameras has led to claims that public civil liberties are at risk. However, authorities claim they are an effective tool in fighting and deterring crime.

13 January 2009, California, USA: "University of California study finds cameras do not prevent violent crime," RAW story.

In response to a recent rise in public surveillance funding by the Department of Homeland Security, ACLU's Technology and Liberty program has launched a Web site to let America know -- The Web site provides news related to public video surveillance, links for more information, ways to take action, a 'horror stories' tab detailing recent misuse of surveillance authority and a flash map of locations in the US where municipal surveillance cameras have been installed.

"The new site will provide one-stop shopping for users, including the press, who want to know the big picture and the fine details about the spread of video surveillance systems," said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office, in a release.

Video surveillance is not a new phenomenon, but the amount of attention that the federal government has been paying is. In the past five years, the Department of Homeland Security has awarded $300 million in grants to state and local governments, all in the name of public video surveillance.

Meanwhile, a timely University of California study has found that San Francisco's $700,000 'Crime Camera' program has had no impact on violent crime since its 2005 installation. The study also states that robberies dropped significantly within each camera's radius, but notes that this finding is inconclusive. The CITRIS report, three years in the making, states that "there are good reasons . . . to be skeptical that the program, even with modifications, can deter violent crime."

Barry Steinhardt, director of the ACLU's Technology and Liberty program, doesn't see video surveillance leading to a safer America.

"Public video surveillance threatens to fundamentally change the nature of our public spaces, and we need to track what is happening," he said. "There are few good sources of information about the spread of video surveillance in the United States -- we get regular media requests for such a source -- and now we have created it."

3 March 2009, New York, USA: "Study Questions Whether Cameras Cut Crime," by Jennider Lee, New York Times.

New York Police Department Surveillance footage showing a suspect from the 2008 Times Square bombing. Research questions how much surveillance deters crime. Do surveillance cameras deter criminals? A recently published statistical study out of New York University says they do not deter it much, if at all, based on five years of evidence from Peter Cooper Village and Stuyvesant Town in Manhattan. By looking at crime rates within the two complexes and in Manhattan's 13th Precinct, which encircles them, two researchers said that their statistical calculations showed no persuasive evidence that the installation of cameras reduced the crime rate in Peter Cooper Village from 2002 to 2006. However, there was stronger evidence for a drop in minor crime at Stuyvesant Town. There was not meaningful enough information available on more serious crime in the complexes.

The study was conducted by David F. Greenberg, a professor of sociology, and Jeffrey B. Roush, an operations management consultant, using data from Jan. 1, 2002, through December 2006. An integrated security system, which included surveillance cameras, was introduced by the end of 2004, which allowed them to compare and contrast before-and-after figures.

There had previously been four studies of closed-circuit television as a crime prevention measure in American settings, according to the researchers. One study found that giving the police access to a combination of surveillance cameras, up-to-the-second police reports and electronic listening devices mounted around the the high-crime city of East Orange, N.J., helped reduce crime by 50 percent between 2003 and 2006 -- with murders declining by nearly two-thirds, rapes by nearly a third, and robberies by half. But the other three studies, which ranged from 1978 to 2002 and focused on lower-crime situations, found that the cameras' impact on reducing crime was statistically inconclusive. And the researchers raise the question whether the trade-offs in cost and loss of privacy are worth it. Civil liberties groups have also questioned whether surveillance cameras, which have proliferated in New York City, have deterred crime. The Police Department, however, maintains that cameras were responsible for a 35 percent reduction in crime in public housing soon after their installation in public spaces there.

That being said, surveillance cameras have helped law enforcement solve crimes, by corroborating testimony from witnesses or tracing suspects. For example, this week news broke of an East Village woman who claimed she was raped by a police officer while his partner stood by in December, after they escorted her back to her apartment when she was drunk. A surveillance camera from a nearby bar caught the officers entering and exiting three times, once with a key. "When they leave the second time, one notices the camera, and they do their best to avoid the camera," Heather Millstone, the bar owner, told The New York Post. "It's as plain as day. When they enter the building the third time, they're specifically out of camera range." The camera, it seems, concerned the officers, but did not deter them.

Video evidence turns up in cases solved and unsolved. For example, the police put out video of a man believed to be the bomber who put an explosive in Times Square in 2008 and a tollbooth video of Keith Phoenix, a man who was sought in the beating of an Ecuadorean man. The city obviously has faith in surveillance technology, given its plan for the expensive Ring of Steel, with mobile teams of heavily armed officers as well as technology including closed-circuit television cameras, license plate readers and explosive trace detection systems. This major effort is directed less at reducing run-of-the-mill daily crime than at deterring potential terrorist activity, but it has privacy advocates alarmed. Chicago has tried another strategy by installing a system that links cameras to 911. Even if surveillance cameras cannot prevent crimes from happening, the police hope that the system is almost as good -- that it will enable them to get there as soon as possible when a crime occurs.

Are surveillance cameras worth the cost in resources and loss of privacy, given the role that they play in deterring or solving crimes?

18 May 2009, London, England: "Big Brother isn't working: How 500m pounds' of CCTV cameras does 'next to nothing' to cut crime," by Steve Doughty, The Daily Mail.

The millions of CCTV cameras on Britain's streets have done virtually nothing to cut crime, Home Office research has revealed. Cameras in town centres, housing estates and on public transport 'did not have a significant effect', a report concluded. It found that the only offence that was heavily reduced by their presence was theft from vehicles in car parks.

The findings are a further blow to Home Office officials and police chiefs who have turned to CCTV as their main weapon in preventing crime. About 4.2million cameras are thought to be operating and at least 500 million pounds' of taxpayers' money has been spent installing them.

But the report, by Cambridge University academic David Farrington for the Campbell Collaboration study group and funded by the Home Office, said cameras should only be used in specific target areas where they are known to be effective - rather than the 'current broad application'. Critics of CCTV say that improving police patrols or street lighting would be more effective, and that cameras can even increase crime by encouraging people to drop their guard. A House of Lords report in January advised Home Secretary Jacqui Smith to look again at whether CCTV helps reduce crime.

Contact the Surveillance Camera Players

By e-mail