The UK has a reputation as a 'surveillance society', and it is a leading user of CCTV cameras to prevent, detect and help solve crimes.
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 are seen in places like car parks and road junctions, many more 'private' cameras are 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 over the 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 solution to increasing crime rates. Not only would it deter criminals from entering premises, but the offenders could also be 'captured' on film for evidence in prosecutions. But the effectiveness of CCTV in deterring crime is not as clear-cut as it can appear. Some 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 modest effect on reducing crime.
The most effective use of surveillance cameras has been in car parks, where criminal activity has been halved. Other findings show that CCTV is 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 several ways.
Cameras increase offenders' likelihood of being caught.
CCTV can provide evidence against offenders.
Increased apprehension at being watched.
Facilitate the effective deployment of security staff.
Security signs warn that crime is taken seriously.
Cameras encourage people to be security conscious.
Psychologist Gordon Trasler found CCTV effective against property offences such as burglary and robbery but less useful for social transgressions 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 action to protect themselves and their property. But cameras can do more than prevent crime. 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. They can also alert medical services if illness or injury is recorded.
With all the evidence in, it appears that the benefits of CCTV camera installation far outweigh the cost, and using correctly installed cameras will continue to enjoy public support. Although it is impossible to measure the effect on crime prevention, research suggests 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 a practical measure against burglary and property crime.
More on using CCTV