Does CC camera surveillance reduce crime?

Lata Jain

Parvathi visited the Hanuman temple near her house daily at 5.30 PM. Her astrologer asked her to visit the temple daily. One morning the pujari advised her to come after 6.30. Astonished, she was forced to ask why? Bowing his head, he said, “I can’t ask you not to wear your mangalsutra while coming to temple, but there have been so many cases of chain snatching and assault in this area ,for your safety, I have no solution but to request women devotees so”. She contacted her brother a senior IPS officer and the local police immediately gave a solution, CC cameras.

The office of the commissioner of police Hyderabad and Cyberabad has made it compulsory to have CC cameras in business establishments, Hotels, Guest  houses, educational institutions, apartments and temples.

Is CC camera a solution to prevention of crime or a technology to arrest the culprit after the damage is done?

CCTV systems are being used increasingly to police public morals and public order. Police department states that the technology can be a solution to such problems as vandalism, burglary. Drunkenness, sexual harassment, creating terrorism, and disorderly behavior. Indeed, when a CCTV system is installed there seems to be an expectation from the public that all crime and anti-social behaviors will reduce. Pervasive security cameras don’t substantially reduce crime. This fact has been demonstrated repeatedly with statistics.

“A surveillance camera can operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year It does not need a holiday, maternity leave and Rarely goes sick” “But” we are cautioned “it doesn’t actually do anything. It is the operators that produce the results required”.

However it is unfortunate that though lakhs of rupees are being spent on CCTV systems, there is actually little evidence as yet of the success of CCTV to combat or deter crime or its cost effectiveness in doing so. This lack of evidence doesn’t mean that CCTV is not a success; it can be, but not necessarily in all situations. What it does mean is that most systems have not been properly evaluated and/or the reason or need for a particular CCTV system was not properly explored at the outset.

Although it’s comforting to imagine vigilant police monitoring every camera, the truth is very different, for a variety of reasons: technological limitations of cameras, organizational limitations of police and the adaptive abilities of criminals. No one looks at most CCTV footage until well after a crime is committed. And when the police do look at the recordings, it’s very common for them to be unable to identify suspects. Criminals don’t often stare helpfully at the lens and them – tend to wear sunglasses and hats. Cameras break far too often.

A shop owner was upset that people were climbing onto the roof of his premises and vandalizing it as well as committing anti-social offences. This had been happening over a period of 2 months. However the trader had not reported it to either the police. Obviously the cameras did not work to capture events on his roof … because the cameras were aimed at the street, as most people would expect them to be. After discussion with the shop owner it was determined that the offences he talked of only happened on Saturday nights. As there was a camera that could be operated to take in a view of the roof of his premises, and time was fairly specific, there was no problem giving a direction to the security guards in the monitoring room to move the camera view once or twice an hour on a Saturday evening, to check out the roof of the premises concerned.

This example serves to highlight the fact that cameras are only as intelligent as those operating them or, to put it another way, the intelligence provided to them. Unless a comprehensive audit is undertaken of where crimes and vandalism are actually occurring in an area proposed to have Surveillance cameras installed, it is difficult to pre-determine where the cameras should look and to evaluate their effectiveness.

But I do understand one thing: the deterrence theory of surveillance had no nexus with the motivations of the rioters. The theory of street crime as a rational act is bankrupt. Evidence-led CCTV deployment shows us where CCTV does work, and that’s in situations where crimes are planned, not pulled off in the heat of the moment.

Parking garages, banks and jewelry stores, yes. And CCTVs make perfect sense as part of burglar alarms that switch on when the glass breaks (or buffer continuously, but only save the few seconds before a break-in). But the idea that we can all be made to behave if only we are watched closely enough all the time is bunkum. We behave ourselves because of our social contract, the collection of written and unwritten rules that bind us together by instilling us with internal surveillance in the form of conscience and aspiration.

A survey of offenders by a research organization of Mumbai police, asked that if they knew CCTV was present, would they have still offended.

16% had offended even though they knew CCTV was present. 53% said there was no CCTV where they offended. 31% did not know if CCTV was present or not and did not much care. This relatively high figure “suggests that for a good number of offenders CCTV does not figure highly in any risk assessment undertaken prior to commission of the offence”.

When the offenders were asked if they would still have committed their offences if they knew the CCTV had been operational 48.2% said no, 27.7% did not know and 24.1% said they would still have offended (and this rises to 40% for juvenile offenders) suggesting that some

Offences may be prevented whereas others will still occur.

Some of the debate around CCTV centers around the premise that the more cameras there are the more they push crime into other, less prosperous areas leading to a crime ghetto effect. Surveillance cameras do not, on their own, prevent crime. They may deter types of crime in their vicinity, but basically the crimes just go elsewhere.

There is a need to tailor other crime prevention measures to enhance the whole package – there isn’t much point watching a group of people drinking themselves to death every night, and offering violence and aggression to passersby, if there aren’t the services and programs provided to assist these people.

Even with CCTV, the public generally feel happier and safer if they have an authority figure, such as the police they can actually see on the beat and to whom they can talk with face to face when they need to In light of the fact that CCTV can only be expected to deter certain types of crime and can do little to police some anti-social behaviors. Patrolling, movement of senior officers in the area, a time to time meeting with people in the area helps than just CC cameras.

CCTV can and does promote public safety. This is also partly because the CCTV increases ‘natural surveillance’ in that people, who are less fearful of crime because of the cameras, increase their usage of the area.

It may be a fine line to draw, but so long as the police and all in authority keep well to the first and foremost of their minds that their presence and friendly trust worthy policing is a must. I believe, with that focus, coupled with the promotion of inclusivity for all, tolerance and respect, that there is indeed a role for CCTV as part of a total package to prevent crime and to deter some antisocial elements.

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