Academic journal article Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology

Watched over or Over-Watched? Open Street CCTV in Australia

Academic journal article Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology

Watched over or Over-Watched? Open Street CCTV in Australia

Article excerpt

Most developed countries, Australia included, are witnessing increased government and public concerns about crime and security. Amid these anxieties, closed circuit television (CCTV) systems to monitor public spaces are increasingly being touted as a solution to problems of crime and disorder. The city of Perth established Australia's first open street closed circuit television system in July 1991. Subsequently, there has been significant expansion. At the end of 2002 Australia had 33 "open street" CCTV schemes. Based on site inspections, extensive reviews of documentation and interviews with 22 Australian administrators, this article discusses issues relating to system implementation, management and accountability. We also suggest ways relevant authorities might ensure that current and future schemes are appropriately audited and evaluated. We argue that rigorous independent assessment of both the intended and unintended consequences of open street CCTV is essential to ensure this measure is not deployed inappropriately. Finally, this article suggests any potential crime prevention benefits must be carefully weighed against the potential of CCTV to exacerbate social division and exclusion.

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Most developed countries, Australia included, are witnessing increased government and public concerns about crime and security. One indicator has been more widespread use of closed circuit television (CCTV) to monitor public space. In Australia "open street" or "Town Centre" CCTV refers to visual surveillance systems established in the main by local government authorities in cooperation with police to monitor public spaces such as malls and major thoroughfares. This study is therefore not concerned with other uses of CCTV such as the use of surveillance cameras on public transport networks, within privately regulated commercial spaces such as casinos and shopping malls, or in retail outlets. The city of Perth established Australia's first open street closed circuit television system in July 1991. Subsequently there has been rapid expansion. At the end of 2002 Australia had 33 such schemes, with the Northern Territory the only Australian jurisdiction without a CCTV-monitored streetscape or public mall.

In addition to providing an overview of public space CCTV in Australia, this article documents international developments and summarises relevant research. Based on site inspections, extensive reviews of documentation and interviews with 22 Australian administrators, it canvasses issues relating to system implementation, management and accountability. (1) We also discuss ways relevant authorities might ensure that current and future schemes are appropriately audited and evaluated. While the precise impact of CCTV on crime and perceptions of safety remains unclear, its use in open street settings in Australia is poised to expand. Local authorities continue to be enthusiastic and several State governments have endorsed this approach. Rigorous independent assessment of both the intended and unintended consequences of public space CCTV will help ensure that the significant funds allocated to this form of crime prevention are not wasted and that untoward social impacts are minimised.

Open Street CCTV: A Global Trend

Australia is not the only country to have embraced open street CCTV. Strongest evidence of the "surveillance revolution" is in the United Kingdom (UK). British police had been using CCTV to monitor public areas since the 1960s (Williams, 2003). However, the first open street system with significant local government involvement commenced in Bournemouth in 1985. Rapid expansion occurred from 1994 onwards, when as part of its "law and order" agenda the Conservative government signalled strong support for CCTV in town centres. Financial support from the Home Office was significant. In 1995, 78% of the Home Office budget for crime prevention was spent on open street CCTV and by 1999 funding had been allocated to 530 town centre schemes operating or scheduled for establishment across the United Kingdom. …

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