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Do CCTV cameras cut down crime?

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The UK has a reputation as a 'surveillance society' and it is a leading user of CCTV cameras to prevent, detect and to help solve crime.

An estimated 5.9 million CCTV cameras are currently in use in towns and cities across the UK, and that's a surveillance camera for every 11 people in the country, one of the highest rates in the world.

Anyone who lives in a town or city will be sure to notice CCTV cameras not just on the street but in public buildings, stores, cinemas, pubs, restaurants, and even schools.

Although many 'public' cameras can be seen in places like car parks and road junctions, there are many more 'private' cameras installed by companies in shops and offices. Indeed, the number of 'private' security cameras in use today outnumbers public CCTV installations by 70 to 1.

Despite concerns at invasion of privacy and the potential intrusion into daily life the installation of CCTV continues to enjoy the support of the general public as a crime prevention measure.

At one time CCTV was considered the answer to the growing crime rates. Not only would it deter criminals from entering premises, but the offenders could also be 'captured' on film for use as evidence in prosecutions.

But the effectiveness of CCTV in deterring crime is not so clear cut. Some Police figures suggest that the impact of CCTV on crime rates is relatively low.

Other studies on the effectiveness of CCTV use have been inconclusive with many agreeing that it has had a significant but only modest effect on reducing crime.

The most effective use of surveillance camera has been in car parks where criminal activity has been halved. Other findings show that CCTV is also best used with other forms of security such as a prominent burglar alarm system, some security lighting, and security gates or fencing.

A notable study by scientists Gill & Spriggs found that CCTV could help reduce crime in a number of ways.

  • Cameras increase the likelihood that offenders are caught, stopped, removed or punished.
  • CCTV can provide evidence against offenders captured on camera.
  • Surveillance can increase apprehension at being watched.
  • Cameras can facilitate the effective deployment of security staff.
  • CCTV installations and security signs warn that crime is taken seriously.
  • The presence of cameras encourages people to be security conscious.
  • Security minded people will choose to use areas with CCTV installed.

Psychologist Gordon Trasler found CCTV effective against property offences such as burglary and robbery but less useful for social offences such as violence or public disorder.

One of the most significant reasons for the rise in popularity of CCTV installations Is the relative cheapness. Advances in technology have made cameras much more sophisticated and much less expensive than they once were.

Recent government austerity measures have led to a cut in funding for public CCTV in recent years, and the general public is more inclined to take measure to protect themselves and their property.

But cameras can do more than prevent crime. It can also be used to alert medical services if illness or injury is recorded. CCTV can help locate lost children, monitor the behaviour of visitors, alert property owners to deliveries and many other uses not connected with criminal activity at all.

With all the evidence in, it appears that the benefits of CCTV camera installation far outweighs the cost, and the use of correctly installed cameras will continue to enjoy public support.

Although it is impossible to measure the effect on crime prevention research seems to suggest that the deterrent effect is tangible and that cameras are more likely to alter the behaviour of potential criminals.

Combined with intruder alarms and other security measures it looks likely that CCTV cameras will continue to be used as an effective measure against burglary and property crime.

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