Considering Local Context When Evaluating a Closed Circuit Television System in Public Spaces

By Anderson, Jessica; McAtamney, Amanda | Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice, October 2011 | Go to article overview

Considering Local Context When Evaluating a Closed Circuit Television System in Public Spaces


Anderson, Jessica, McAtamney, Amanda, Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice


The use of CCTV as a tool to prevent crime in public spaces continues to expand, in particular among local governments (Iris Research Ltd 2005). Indeed, its popularity and use is not restricted solely to preventing crime. CCTV has been implemented for a range of purposes that includes use as an access control measure, as a method to reduce fear of crime and improve perceptions of community safety, to potentially detect crime and also to be an evidentiary tool (Al lard, Wortley & Stewart 2006). Technological advances have also meant that its application has also been explored more broadly in other areas by using new methods such as video analytics. As a result, CCTV has been used for road and traffic management activities such as tracking people and cars (Edelman & Bijhold 2010), automatic numberplate recognition systems (Clancey 2009) and pre-empting possible criminal events through behavioural analysis (ACBPS nd).

Despite this, research suggests that the effectiveness of CCTV as a crime prevention measure remains modest at best (see eg Gill & Spriggs 2005; Wells, Allard & Wilson 2006; Welsh & Farrington 2009, 2008, 2002), with limited evidence of its impact on fear of crime and feelings of safety for users of the space under surveillance (Gill, Bryan & Adam 2007; Taylor 2010a; Zurawski 2010). When shown to be effective, it is often dependent upon the context in which it has been applied. For example, while CCTV has been observed to be effective in car parks and similar locations, it has met with mixed success in city centres, public housing and public transportation systems (Welsh & Farrington 2009). In particular, the success of CCTV schemes in car parks has been limited to a reduction in vehicle crimes, coinciding with other strategies such as improved lighting and signage alerting the public to the presence of CCTV (Welsh & Farrington 2009).

An Australian study of prison misbehaviour also identified that planned offences were not as likely to be captured by CCTV as 'spur of the moment' offences, suggesting an individual's motivation to commit an offence might influence the deterrent effect of CCTV (Allard, Wortley & Stewart 2008). Further, factors such as the long-term ongoing funding of CCTV schemes (Gerrard et al. 2007) and the way control rooms are operated (Roe & Read 2007; Wells, Allard & Wilson 2006) can have an impact CCTV delivery. This suggests that if CCTV is to be an effective crime prevention tool, then it must be carefully planned and integrated with other measures. Comprehensive Australian studies of CCTV effectiveness in crime prevention in Australia are limited, though there are exceptions. Wells, Allard and Wilson (2006) studied the use and effectiveness of CCTV as a crime prevention tool in Gold Coast public spaces and on the Queensland Rail City Train network. They found that CCTV had an effect when detecting violent offending, but not deterring any crime type in the areas covered by the cameras. Whereas many businesses, residents and rail commuters supported the CCTV installation, they questioned whether the cameras were being actively monitored and whether the system could improve police response times to incidents as they occurred (Wells, Allard & Wilson 2006).

Robust evaluations of CCTV implementation are critical for understanding the effectiveness of CCTV and assisting to determine if investment in CCTV is worthwhile. Indeed, improving the methodological rigour of CCTV evaluations was a specific recommendation from a systematic review of CCTV studies undertaken by Welsh and Farrington (2009).

A well-designed and thorough evaluation of CCTV effectiveness should take into account local contextual issues, such as resource availability, the local environment and any other events that may influence overall success. Table 1 outlines some of the key considerations that should be incorporated into an evaluation plan. It highlights how an agency's understanding of the factors that can influence CCTV implementation and operation is central to deciding how best to apply CCTV, as well as the execution of a rigorous evaluation that improves the sector's knowledge of the effectiveness of CCTV In reality, many agencies can struggle to identify what issues might influence the implementation and effectiveness of CCTV (Anderson & McAtamney2010). …

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