Street CCTV has little effect on crime

The Guardian |

The use of closed-circuit television in city and town centres and public housing estates does not have a significant effect on crime, according to Home Office-funded research to be distributed to all police forces in England and Wales this summer, reports The Guardian.

The review of 44 research studies on CCTV schemes by the Campbell Collaboration found that they do have a modest impact on crime overall but are at their most effective in cutting vehicle crime in car parks, especially when used alongside improved lighting and the introduction of security guards.

The authors, who include Cambridge University criminologist David Farrington, say while their results lend support for the continued use of CCTV, schemes should be far more narrowly targeted at reducing vehicle crime in car parks.

Results from a 2007 study in Cambridge which looked at the impact of 30 cameras in the city centre showed that they had no effect on crime but led to an increase in the reporting of assault, robbery and other violent crimes to the police.

Home Office ministers cited the review last week in their official response to the critical report from the House of Lords constitution committee on surveillance published earlier this year. The peers warned that the steady expansion of the “surveillance society”, including the spread of CCTV, risked undermining fundamental freedoms, including the right to privacy.

In their response the Home Office disclosed that the National Police Improvement Agency is planning new research into the effectiveness of CCTV. The Campbell Collaboration review, by Farrington and a Massachusetts University criminologist, Brandon Welsh, concludes that CCTV is more effective in reducing crime in Britain than in other countries — as the Home Office points out.

But it also makes clear that of the 44 research studies the authors reviewed, only seven covered countries outside Britain and four of those involved the United States.

The Campbell Collaboration report says that CCTV is now the single most heavily-funded crime prevention measure operating outside the criminal justice system and its rapid growth has come with a huge price tag.

It adds that £170m was spent on camera schemes in town and city centres, car parks and residential areas between 1999 and 2001 alone. “Over the last decade, CCTV accounted for more thanthree quarters of total spending on crime prevention by the British Home Office,” the report says.

The Lords report said that £500m was spent in Britain on CCTV in the decade up to 2006, money which in the past would have gone on street lighting or neighbourhood crime prevention initiatives.

Welsh and Farrington say there has been concern that all this funding has been based on a handful of apparently successful schemes that were usually less than rigorously evaluated, done with varying degrees of competence and varying degrees of independence from government.

Their research review, which was funded by the Home Office and the Swedish Council for Crime Prevention, says that future CCTV schemes need high quality, independent evaluation.