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Are CCTV Cameras Really Crime Deterrent Or Just Showpieces?

Posted on July 16, 2012 in Society

By Hariharan Ramakrishnan:

The news of abduction of yet another child came out as a result of the recovery of a child kidnapped from Chhatrapati Shivaji station in Mumbai. The child abduction incident at Safdarjung hospital premises was caught on a CCTV camera. Police say investigations are going on for past one year. Similarly incidents like the murder of the senior journalist Jyotirmoy Dey and ransacking of Tanishq Jewellers were covered by CCTV cameras, but both of them didn’t help in prosecuting the people alleged in the acts.

The releases of these videos have raised questions about the effectiveness and ability of CCTV cameras to prevent crimes. The major complaint being that these cameras are helpful in investigating the incident and not in its prevention. It’s true that surveillance cameras work 365×7×24 hours but it lies in the hands of operators who are the watchdogs, but they are human beings too.

CCTV cameras are able to reduce significantly some small crimes like car thefts or burglaries in malls but fail to prevent crimes like murder, abduction etc. There have been real examples of crime which had occurred in front of these digital eyes but the result has always been ineffective. Reduction of crimes are possible when CCTV cameras are installed, but unless they are seen to be working, it is very common for incidents to resurface over a period of time, and then it becomes far more difficult to regain the high ground. Burglars or thieves consider these cameras as just showpieces and have numerous methods in hand to hide themselves from the coverage. They know that nobody is going to present themselves at the instant to prevent the crime.

Say an operator is monitoring 20 screens in a control room with as many as 50 cameras installed in a surveillance area, but they can’t be alert and suspicious at all times. Some distractions like attending a phone call or moving into other office chambers may highly provide chances for the wrong-doers. New technologies are to come in near future to perform some intelligent operations like spotting a person of suspicion with abnormal behaviour, bag left at a place for a long time or zeroing in a suspect moving in the opposite direction where everybody else are following a particular direction. Even then it’s impossible to identify suspicious behaviour when large numbers of people sit in a place for a long time, like airport terminal and railway platform. Face recognition by biometric technology may be advantageous but it also provides sufficient ways to elude.

Britain has opined that while possessing 10,000 CCTV cameras at the cost of 200 million Euros, 80% of the crimes remain unsolved. Only 3% of the robberies have been found and solved despite having the maximum number of CCTV camera surveillances than any other country in Europe. An analysis in UK found that:

1. Surveillance systems were most effective in parking lots, where their use resulted in a 51% decrease in crime.
2. Public transportation areas saw a 23% decrease in crimes.
3. Public system settings were the least effective, with just a 7% decrease in crimes overall.

Studies about CCTV cameras’ performance say that CCTV is capable of reducing crime but the kinds of crimes differ. Dominantly premeditated crimes, car thefts are reduced by this system whereas it has little effect on crimes such as those committed during drunkenness or acts of rage like terrorism (26/11 incident).

The conclusion is that claim of great reduction in crime rate should be dropped and future CCTV projects should be optimized for crime solving, materialistic and premeditated crimes rather than just crime reduction.