Surveillance Cameras In London Not Very Effective At Solving Crime

from the seems-like-a-problem dept

Defenders of installing surveillance cameras everywhere often insist that they’re necessary and useful in stopping and solving crime. Yet, even that’s being called into serious question, as a study of London’s widespread use of CCTV cameras, found that for every 1,000 cameras installed, only one crime has been solved. On top of that, when faced with a crime, the CCTV cameras are rarely that useful. The report found that CCTV cameras were used to catch just 8 out of 269 suspected robbers. And these cameras aren’t cheap to install or maintain, making some begin to question if anti-crime budgets couldn’t be spent more wisely.


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Comments on “Surveillance Cameras In London Not Very Effective At Solving Crime”

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26 Comments
Jake says:

In fairness to the pro-camera lobby, this is not necessarily the fault of the concept. Going with either the cheapest bidder, the most buzzword-compliant bidder, the bidder with the most golfing buddies in government or some combination thereof undoubtedly hasn’t helped their effectiveness; the really low-end ones have such poor resolution that they’re barely good enough to describe a fleeing crook to the dispatcher, let alone use as evidence for their prosecution.

Curious... says:

But the way this post is written begs the question, if not for those cameras, would the crimes solved rates be much worse? It’s not about how many crimes per camera, it’s about solve rates with vs solve rates without cameras. It says just 8 out of 269, if it weren’t for those cameras, would those 8 have gone free? The article states “We estimate more than 70% of murder investigations have been solved with the help of CCTV retrievals..” which sounds like an excellent rate to me. No system is perfect and with all the money being spent, I hope they work harder to improve it instead of sitting back and not realizing the full potential and useage per cost. I am honestly just curious and have no feeling pro or against cameras, this post is just not very informative.

evgen says:

Re: Re: Re:

No problem.

Less than two weeks ago Salt Lake City reported a 50% drop in police roll-outs in a specific location (pioneer park) that had cameras installed. Philly reported a 37% drop in crime rates in 2007 after introducing cameras, Balitmore 17%, NYC 36% in certain locations, and the list goes on and on.

It is easy to make an argument that these crime rate declines were due to displacement of the activities in question and not direct deterrence, given the limited amount of data available (secondary effects of the cameras really, and reliable crime data beyond simple event tracking is hard to get for obvious reasons) but to suggest that the crime rate is not impacted by these devices shows either stunning ignorance or that you are just too damn lazy to use Google.

How about this question: care to cite any studies or reported instances of CCTV being used to infringe upon someone’s privacy beyond that which is possible without using such a system?

Thought not…

Comboman says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

How about this question: care to cite any studies or reported instances of CCTV being used to infringe upon someone’s privacy beyond that which is possible without using such a system?

Thought not…

You didn’t wait very long for reply (I guess you always win that way). There are plenty of web sites devoted to documenting abuse of CCTV systems. This is one of the better ones.

Pjerky (profile) says:

Question of efficacy or question of privacy?

Mike, I usually enjoy reading your work, but this time I wonder if it is more about the concern of privacy for the everyday citizen than about the effectiveness of the cameras. While I am certainly no fan of cameras blanketing a city and watching every movement anyone makes, I still see the functional use of such cameras and how they can be highly effective tools in solving crime.

While just 3% of robbery suspects were caught using the cameras, you failed to mention that 70% of murder investigations were solved using the cameras. I would say that seems to justify the cameras outright, while completely disregarding any other crimes solved. How many of those murder investigations would not have been solved without the help of the cameras?

If your real concern is privacy than you should state it. But as it stands now I think that the cameras are a mixed bag of privacy and crime solving tool and neither should be taken lightly.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Question of efficacy or question of privacy?

It is the typical thing that Mike does with data, selecting only the narrowly focused things that might create “moral outrage” while ignoring the bigger picture.

The crime in the British capital is at a ten-year low, according to the latest figures released by the London Police. The statistics reveal that crime in London is continuing to fall with clear reductions in knife and gun crime, robbery, and hate crime. Overall crime has fallen for the sixth consecutive year and is now at the lowest level for ten years.

http://www.geo.tv/1-22-2009/33267.htm

Sort of sucks when reality gets in the way of a good rant.

evgen says:

If the cameras are ineffective there is no privacy risk.

Seems that we have a bit of cognitive dissonance going on here. Either the cameras are an effective means of identification and tracking, which would make them effective law enforcement tools but a privacy risk, or they are not effective at this task, which would make them unreliable law enforcement tools and not a privacy risk. Which one is it? They can’t both be effective at identifying you and tracking your behavior and ineffective at identifying criminals and their criminal activity. Is there some bit of code in there that runs a “if crime_being_committed then become_useless” routine?

You can argue one side of the fundamental capabilities and risks of the technology or the other, but you do not get to pick and choose your side depending on what deceptive argument you intend on making.

PrometheeFeu (profile) says:

I think you have it wrong here Mike. The benefit of surveillance cameras is not that they help solve crimes. It’s that they deter crime. Now, they will not deter a bank robbery, or a premeditated murder. If you have the time to plan things out, the camera is just a challenge to overcome like bank vaults and security personnel. But, for things like petty theft or “minor” violence, having the camera there saying: “We’re watching” could be a powerful deterrent.

Call me Al says:

“It is the typical thing that Mike does with data, selecting only the narrowly focused things that might create “moral outrage” while ignoring the bigger picture.

The crime in the British capital is at a ten-year low, according to the latest figures released by the London Police. The statistics reveal that crime in London is continuing to fall with clear reductions in knife and gun crime, robbery, and hate crime. Overall crime has fallen for the sixth consecutive year and is now at the lowest level for ten years.

http://www.geo.tv/1-22-2009/33267.htm

Sort of sucks when reality gets in the way of a good rant.”

Unfortunately there have been some other surveys and some (admittedly anecdotal) evidence that the crime figures in London are being massaged. Apparently large swathes of the population just don’t bother to report various crimes because they either a) don’t trust the police b) don’t think anything useful would come of it c) plan on their own revenge.

I’ll see if I can track down one of these studies so that I don’t just sound like a crank.

Ilfar says:

Cameras in use

I’ve worked Night Patrols for a security company in Christchurch, New Zealand. While driving between checks I’d have a police scanner going in the patrol car. Quite often you’d get a call over the police radio of someone having been in a fight at one club, and someone in the camera conrol room tracking them through town giving the responding unit updates till they caught up with them.

Sometimes the camera itself doesn’t get a shot, but it shows them going into a store whose cameras do give a good shot.

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