February 11, 2004
British Most Highly Monitored By Video Cameras

Security video cameras, known as Closed Circuit TV or CCTV in Britain, are so popular among the British that the British are the most monitored by video cameras of any people on Earth.

The technology has become popular and widespread, with the result that Britons are by far the most watched people on earth, with one camera for every 14 people, according to recent estimates.

But questions remain as to their effectiveness.

A government review 18 months ago found that security cameras were effective in tackling vehicle crime but had limited effect on other crimes. Improved streetlighting recorded better results.


"I have talked to offenders about this," says Gill. "They say they are not concerned by security cameras, unless they were actually caught by one

My take: even if criminals are not deterred by the presence of cameras if the cameras are of suffciently high quality to enable identification of perpetrators of crimes then the cameras ought to increase conviction rates. What would be interesting would be to find data on what percentage of charges brought against suspected criminals use video evidence. Have video cameras increased clearance rates (i.e. the rate at which police can identity and charge a suspect) on various types of crimes? Also, is the rate of conviction higher in those cases which include CCTV evidence? Also, what percentage of all types of crimes in public places are caught by CCTV in areas where it is heavily deployed? Even when a crime isn't caught by a video camera there can be cameras pointing to areas nearby that could record images of those entering and leaving an area around the time a crime takes place. So how often does that happen?

The Midlothian and Borders Police claim CCTV crimes are solved at high rates.

Dalkeith and Penicuik are both reaping the benefits of town centre closed circuit television systems. With over 50 incidents recorded on camera this year and a 100% conviction rate in the courts, the cameras are undoubtedly helping deter anti-social behaviour on our streets.

But is the 100% for all 50 cases or for a smaller subset of cases for which charges were brought?

From some UK Home Offices studies in lighting and CCTV for crime reduction and prevention:

The major findings from the reviews are:

- Street lighting and CCTV work in cutting crime particularly when used within a package of other crime reduction measures.
- Improved street lighting reduced crime by 20%.
- CCTV was especially effective in reducing vehicle crime in car parks, leading to a 41% reduction.

The UK government Home Office report on street lighting and crime prevention is a downloadable PDF. Also, the matching report on CCTV and crime prevention is available as a downloadable PDF as well. The report claims that CCTV works very well to reduce crime in car parks (in American English "parking lots").

Overall, the best current evidence suggests that CCTV reduces crime to a small degree. CCTV is most effective in reducing vehicle crime in car parks, but it had little or no effect on crime in public transport and city centre settings.


Both published and unpublished reports were considered in the searches, and the searches were international in scope and were not limited to the English language.

The search strategies resulted in 22 CCTV evaluations meeting the criteria for inclusion. The evaluations were carried out in three main settings: (1) city centre or public housing, (2) public transport, and (3) car parks.

Of the 22 included evaluations, half (11) found a desirable effect on crime and five found an undesirable effect on crime. Five evaluations found a null effect on crime (i.e., clear evidence of no effect), while the remaining one was classified as finding an uncertain effect on crime (i.e., unclear evidence of an effect).

Results from a meta-analysis provide a clearer picture of the crime prevention effectiveness of CCTV. From 18 evaluations – the other four did not provide the needed data to be included in the meta-analysis – it was concluded that CCTV had a significant desirable effect on crime, although the overall reduction in crime was a very small four per cent. Half of the studies (nine out of 18) showed evidence of a desirable effect of CCTV on crime. All nine of these studies were carried out in the UK. Conversely, the other nine studies showed no evidence of any desirable effect of CCTV on crime. All five North American studies were in this group.

The meta-analysis also examined the effect of CCTV on the most frequently measured crime types. It was found that CCTV had no effect on violent crimes (from five studies), but had a significant desirable effect on vehicle crimes (from eight studies).

Across the three settings, mixed results were found for the crime prevention effectiveness of CCTV. In the city centre and public housing setting, there was evidence that CCTV led to a negligible reduction in crime of about two per cent in experimental areas compared with control areas. CCTV had a very small but significant effect on crime in the five UK evaluations in this setting (three desirable and two undesirable), but had no effect on crime in the four North American evaluations.

The four evaluations of CCTV in public transportation systems present conflicting evidence of effectiveness: two found a desirable effect, one found no effect, and one found an undesirable effect on crime. For the two effective studies, the use of other interventions makes it difficult to say with certainty that CCTV produced the observed crime reductions. The pooled effect size for all four studies was a non-significant six per cent decrease in crime.

Unfortunately the Home Office study on CCTV and crime says little about arrest rates and conviction rates. What portion of crimes of each type in an area with CCTV were recorded by CCTV? How many of those recordings were of sufficiently high quality to allow arrest of perpetrators? Is CCTV image quality a serious obstacle for the effective use of CCTV? My guess is that the answer the final question is "Yes" and that advances in technology will improve image quality and perpetrator identification rates.

If CCTV is not helping to reduce crime rates then some comments on a BBC discussion board suggest obvious reasons why:

We had our car stolen in Dec 2000 in front of CCTV cameras. The police caught the thief by chance. He was convicted sentenced to community service (this was his EIGHTH offence), and ordered to pay us £80 compensation. We had seen nothing of the money and he has committed 4 more offences. He is only 18, which means he will probably carry out more serious crimes in the future. It is about time that the law was brought down hard on even first time offenders. First time means first time caught.
Anon, Scotland

I retired as a Chief Superintendent in 1996, having been a Divisional Commander for some years. By the time I retired I was ashamed of the service we were able to provide. A daily struggle to put out a minimum number of officers, sometimes as few as 8 or 9 from a paper total of more than 200. Where were they all? Attending courses, tied up in court, and dealing with time wasters complaints (every villain now complains as a routine, and boy does it use up police time). We need to get back to good old fashioned policing. It's time for us to return to the criminal being afraid, not the public.
John Lilley, England

I was mugged recently. The police turned up after quite some time. Records later showed that by the time they responded to my call my cards were already being used around Brixton. I was more than willing to give up my time to look at CCTV images near to where the mugging took place and where the cards were used to try to spot this guy. The police didn't seem to know how to respond to that suggestion - it was like it had never occurred to them.

I was more than willing to go out of my way to catch this guy who had caused me and doubtless many other people an awful trauma. The police just weren't interested. I'm a lawyer and I think I would have made a good witness. I am very sure about what I saw. Unfortunately, I was never given the opportunity to demonstrate this. I received three offers of counselling from the police. The best therapy they could have given me would have been to get the coward who did it in the dock.
Claire, England

There is a limit to what technology can do to counteract the decay of a culture that has lost belief in the right of law-abiding people to defend themselves. One of the hardest problems when trying to guess about the future is that there is no way of knowing whether any given culture will partially or totally decay and become very degenerate. More generally, what technology can make possible is a far larger set of possibilities than what people will choose to do with it.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2004 February 11 02:58 PM  Surveillance Cameras

arbitrary aardvark said at February 12, 2004 12:53 PM:

The flaw here is that the government controls the cameras.
Neal Stevenson had an article in Wired some years ago, proposing citizen-run networks of webcams for local crime deterrance.
In the US, there are more private security guards than cops, so I'm gonna guess there are more private cams than government ones.
The technology is new enough that the potential uses, and resulting social changes, haven't fully kicked in.

Forbes said at February 12, 2004 2:09 PM:

The crime rate in the UK has soared since the Blair government outlawed private ownership of guns, thereby eliminating the last line of defense for the law abiding. UK government use of CCTV has been widespread for many years--this is not a recent introduction of "technology."

Kevin Baker said at February 13, 2004 12:26 PM:


Tony Blair is hardly responsible for over eighty years of ever more restrictive death-by-a-thousand-cuts legislation that has made firearms ownership in the UK so onerously hard as to be impossible for all but the most dedicated. Nor is he responsible for the 1988 ban on semi-automatic rifles, and I don't think you can hang the 1996 handgun ban on him either.

The problem with violent crime in the UK, England & Wales specifically, is (in my opinion) due to the laws passed that made defending oneself subject to prosecution if "excessive force" was employed. The position being, for example, that if a mugger threatened to beat you until you handed over your wallet, then shooting the SOB was an excessive response. So was braining him with a brick. The message was, increasingly: "Submit. The Government is responsible for your protection, you're not qualified. Oh, and we can't do the job either, but we're going to make damned sure you don't try." These laws began in the mid 1950's.

The staggering increase in violent crime experienced in the UK is the result of decades of liberal utopist lawmaking based on the idea that all people are inherently good and will do the right thing, and hurting people who do bad things is never right. The UK's draconian control is just one, relatively minor, part of that cultural mindset.

Personally, I'm glad we here in the U.S. get to observe the laboratory that England & Wales presents - an island with all the gun laws that proponents here want, uniform throughout the polity, and crime - especially firearm-involved crime - is skyrocketing. And now that Parliament has essentially disarmed the honest public and criminals have taken to carrying firearms as fashion accessores, the escalation in firearm related crimes isn't surprising.

Wes Ulm said at February 15, 2004 11:58 PM:

Yikes. I guess all nose-pickers and nuts-scratchers will have to be extra careful in Britain. Who knows what the next British version of "Candid Camera" will be recording.

Iraq, its history, and the current Iraqi morass-- an analysis

The Spanish Armada revealed: Top 10 myths and muddles about history’s most confused and misunderstood battle

Anon said at November 14, 2005 6:21 AM:

CCTV cameras are doing an excellent job. In my local area, a new camera has been installed on a road and the crime has been redudced by 3.2%!

Post a comment
Name (not anon or anonymous):
Email Address:
Remember info?

Go Read More Posts On FuturePundit
Site Traffic Info
The contents of this site are copyright ©