A review of CCTV published by the Scottish government shows once again the ineffectiveness of surveillance cameras and like a broken record they have the same old solution - upgrade the surveillance camera network!
Two reports - a review of CCTV ('The Effectiveness of Public Space CCTV: A Review of Recent Published Evidence Regarding the Impact of CCTV on Crime') and recommendations for the future of CCTV ('Strategic Report on Improving the Efficiency and Effectiveness of Public-Space CCTV in Scotland') have been published by the Scottish Parliament. A third report: 'Public Space CCTV In Scotland: Results of a National Survey of Scotlandís Local Authorities' has been published by the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research (SCCJR).
It is this third report that most of the media has focused on as the Scottish government issued a press release 4th December ('CCTV "crucial" to crime fighting') that was uncritically published by Scottish newspapers. By releasing three reports on the same day and feeding the media a pre-written report that saves them wading through the data, the Scottish government has ensured that the public are once again ill informed with regards to CCTV, a point that ironically their reports highlight.
The Scottish government's review of the effectiveness of CCTV was essentially a review of several reviews, which we will now review.
The Scottish government did not commission any new research into surveillance cameras but instead discussed the findings of several existing reports. These reports include:
- - 'The Cambridge Evaluation of the Effects of CCTV on Crime' [Farrington, Bennett, & Welsh (2007), Imagination for Crime Prevention: Essays in Honour of Ken Pease]
- - 'What do murderers think about the effectiveness of CCTV?' [Gill, Spriggs, Little & Collins (2006). Journal of Security Education 2, (1), 11 Ė 17]
- - Home Office Research Study 292: Assessing the Impact of CCTV [Gill & Spriggs (2005), Home Office Research
- - 'Evaluation of the Devonport CCTV Scheme' [Goodwin V. (2002), AUS: Crime Prevention and Community Safety Council, Tasmania Police]
- - 'Town centre CCTV: An examination of crime reduction in Gillingham' [Griffiths, M. (2003), University of Reading]
Notably they did not include the most recent evaluation of CCTV. The Campbell Collaboration Report 2008 (a meta-study of 41 CCTV evaluations) which found that "the evaluations of CCTV schemes in city and town centers and public housing [...] did not have a significant effect on crime."
The Campbell Collaboration Report was published in December 2008. So why did the Scottish government not include it? An explanation may be found in the review's criticism of the 2002 evaluation by the same authors as the Campbell Collaboration Report (Welsh and Farrington):
Of all the literature reviewing CCTV, Welsh and Farrington (2002) only found 22 studies to include in their review which met these criteria [criteria for a valid evaluation, see * below], and the majority of these studies were conducted in the 1990ís. Since then, many technological advances have been made, which may have an impact on the effectiveness of CCTV in terms of crime prevention and reduction. It is therefore, important to review the results of more recent literature which may account for the effect of any improved advancements. The present review of the literature will only include studies that have been conducted since the year 2000.
The Campbell Collaboration report considered 92 evaluations of CCTV and found only 44 met their criteria for inclusion. Of those they rejected, 22 were since 2002! Of those that met the criteria for inclusion 23 of the 44 were since 2000. In other words the most recent and comprehensive review of CCTV that includes multiple post 2000 studies has been excluded from the review - could this be evidence of the Scottish government sexing up a report?
Amongst the findings the Scottish government review chose to highlight were:
page 2: Anecdotal evidence suggests there are many additional benefits of CCTV that go beyond any impact it may have on crime.
page 9: There is little evidence from the multi-evaluation carried out by Gill and Spriggs (2005) to suggest that CCTV effectively deters crime.
page 15: A small group of police respondents interviewed by Levesley and Martin (2005) also highlighted the negative effect of deployment to non-priority incidents through increased detection.
page 18: Through their series of laboratory experiments, Davies and Thasen (2000) found that identification of unfamiliar people from CCTV footage is a highly fallible process, and concluded that the practice of inviting unfamiliar individuals to compare the appearance of a CCTV image with that of the defendant should be avoided.
The review's conclusions include the following:
The 'effectiveness' of CCTV must be considered in light of its intended purpose, as each individual project is installed to serve its own purpose. That said, the rapid spread of CCTV across Britain over the last decade can largely be attributed to claims that have been made regarding the effectiveness of CCTV in terms of crime reduction, and because of this, CCTV evaluations have traditionally focussed on its impact on crime.
Overall, it would seem as though the impact of CCTV on crime has been variable.
Furthermore, the belief that CCTV alone will solve the problem of crime is unrealistic.
Confronted with multiple studies that highlight the failings of CCTV and the public's misplaced belief that CCTV has magical powers, the Scottish government believes that more research is needed. The same view has been repeated over and over again in England and Wales despite the fact that CCTV has been a feature of life in the UK since the late 1980s and reports showing its ineffectiveness have been produced for almost a decade. One wonders if the report writers would be calling for more research had the research to date given them the answer they appear to want, namely that CCTV is an effective crime fighting tool.
The second report released by the Scottish government contains recommendations for the future of CCTV in Scotland. This in many ways resembles 'The National CCTV Strategy' produced by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and the Home Office in 2007.
The Scottish government's strategy recommends:
1.02 - Recommendation: Consideration should be given to the creation of a Scottish national CCTV group to develop and support best practice and partnership working across Scotland.
1.04 - Recommendation: A Scotland wide strategic approach should be developed that maximises the day to day operation and utilisation of public-space CCTV at a local level.
Having pointed out that:
The technical capability of CCTV is evolving so we must recognise that systems are developing 'artificial intelligence' and by using biometrics and digital rather than analogue platforms CCTV is no longer simply a resource to watch activities but is being developed as a predictor of behaviour and so has a potential role as an intervention tool.
The strategy recommends:
1.10 - Recommendation: The knowledge base and awareness of CCTV operations to these evolving technologies must be grown to ensure that the financial investment and public confidence in these systems is maximised.
1.26 - Recommendation: The ability to undertake live and historic cross LA [Local Authority]/ Police boundary searches particularly in response to serious crimes and terrorism should be a building block of any new system.
2.03 - Recommendation: The sustainable use of technology that can respond to peripatetic anti-social behaviour and crime is likely to become more important in helping to improve community safety, effectively manage incidents and tackle crime. Consequently, the use and availability of developing technologies of 3G telephony and WiFi should be given serious consideration for future CCTV growth/ replacement and monitoring centre investment.
The third report is mostly a collection of data about Scotland's CCTV (made up of the results of a survey of Scotland's local authorities). For instance it reveals:
- There are over 2,200 public space CCTV cameras in Scotland.
- Very few authorities undertake comprehensive evaluations of the effectiveness of public space CCTV systems.
- Over the period 2008 to 2010, the total cost of operating public space CCTV systems in Scotland can be expected to exceed £40 million.
On Automatic Number Plate recognition cameras it says:
In total there are 792 Public Space CCTV cameras capable of Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) in Scotland. Although these cameras have ANPR capacity, only around 20% of them are currently used for this purpose. North Lanarkshire has the most ANPR-capable cameras
The survey once again calls for more research into the effectiveness of CCTV:
8.6 Given the variation in the strategic purposes to which CCTV is put (and is planned to be put) across Scotland, there appears to be value in a detailed evaluation of the effectiveness of its application to these purposes, and following this, dissemination of best practice information among strategic planners and users of CCTV. Development of common practice and data recording would enable better performance management and evaluation of CCTV against the investment made in its provision.
Looking across all three reports - supposedly a comprehensive investigation of surveillance cameras in Scotland - there is no mention of common law, civil liberties or anonymity, and there is only a fleeting mention of privacy in the review document in relation to existing legislation/regulation. Clearly policy makers in Scotland have the same disdain for the rights and freedoms of law abiding citizens as their counterparts in Westminster. Surely at this point in time, when the failings of CCTV cannot be denied and with calls for cuts to public expenditure, an investigation into surveillance cameras should look at the alleged trade-offs of security versus freedoms and costs. It is remarkable that once again faced with a mountain of evidence against the usefulness of CCTV the overriding message being sold to the public is "more CCTV"! Hundreds of millions of pounds have been wasted on this failed experiment. It is time to roll back the experiment and use the money to actually reduce crime.
* Home Office Study 252 selection criteria - Welsh and Farrington only included studies that met strict methodological criteria:
"that CCTV was the main intervention studied;
that there was an outcome measure of crime;
that crime levels before and after the intervention were measured;
that the studies included a comparable control area."