Making Public Places Safer: Surveillance and Crime Prevention

Making Public Places Safer: Surveillance and Crime Prevention

Making Public Places Safer: Surveillance and Crime Prevention

Making Public Places Safer: Surveillance and Crime Prevention


The United Kingdom has more than 4.2 million public closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras-one for every fourteen citizens. Across the United States, hundreds of video surveillance systems are being installed in town centers, public transportation facilities, and schools at a cost exceeding $100 million annually. And now other Western countries have begun to experiment with CCTV to prevent crime in public places. In light of this expansion and the associated public expenditure, as well as pressing concerns about privacy rights, there is an acute need for an evidence-based approach to inform policy and practice.

Drawing on the highest-quality research, criminologists Brandon C. Welsh and David P. Farrington assess the effectiveness and social costs of not only CCTV, but also of other important surveillance methods to prevent crime in public space, such as improved street lighting, security guards, place managers, and defensible space. Importantly, the book goes beyond the question of "Does it work?" and examines the specific conditions and contexts under which these surveillance methods may have an effect on crime as well as the mechanisms that bring about a reduction in crime.

At a time when cities need cost-effective methods to fight crime and the public gradually awakens to the burdens of sacrificing their privacy and civil rights for security, Welsh and Farrington provide this timely and reliable guide to the most effective and non-invasive uses of surveillance to make public places safer from crime.


By the time they were arrested on October 24, 2002, John Allen Muhammad, 41, and his teenage accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo, had shot and killed 10 people and critically injured another 3 in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. Dubbed by the media as the D.C.-area sniper (just one individual was thought to be involved), the perpetrators used a modified car as a sniper’s nest and shot victims indiscriminately, including a 13-yearold boy who had just been dropped off at his school, a bus driver taking a break from his route, a man cutting the grass at a car dealership, and a woman returning to her vehicle after shopping at a home building store. The shootings lasted a little more than three weeks, terrorizing residents and captivating the nation. Because it was only a year after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, speculation quickly grew that the snipers were part of a terrorist cell.

Federal, state, and local police forces from across the D.C. area were mobilized, checkpoints were established, sometimes bringing traffic to a standstill for miles, and hundreds of tips were followed up. Criminal profilers were consulted, and a wealth of information was communicated to the public to advise them to be vigilant and to ask for their assistance in the investigation.

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