How Do Police Use CCTV Footage in Criminal Investigations?

By Dowling, Christopher; Morgan, Anthony et al. | Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice, April 2019 | Go to article overview

How Do Police Use CCTV Footage in Criminal Investigations?


Dowling, Christopher, Morgan, Anthony, Gannoni, Alexandra, Jorna, Penny, Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice


Closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras are widely used in public spaces across Australia to achieve a range of crime and safety goals (Carr 2016; Hulme, Morgan & Brown 2015). However, research has tended to focus on examining the extent to which CCTV cameras prevent crime (Alexandrie 2017; Piza 2018; Welsh & Farrington 2009), while fewer studies have examined police use of CCTV in their response to crime. This is despite arguments for the investigative value of CCTV commonly being used to justify policies and codes of practice facilitating the establishment and expansion of CCTV networks in Australia (eg Australia New Zealand Policing Advisory Agency 2014; Council of Australian Governments 2012; NSW Attorney-General's Department 2000; Victorian Ombudsman 2012). Importantly, the investigative value of CCTV footage has implications for the ability of cameras to prevent crime by influencing the extent to which they are seen to increase the risks of apprehension and sanction. Research on the investigative value of CCTV footage is also critical to demonstrating its utility and cost-effectiveness in helping police secure positive criminal justice outcomes for cases, particularly given the frequency with which police request footage as part of their investigations (Ashby 2017; Hulme, Morgan & Brown 2015; La Vigne et al. 2011; Levesley & Martin 2005; Morgan & Coughlan 2018), the significant investment of resources in CCTV networks and information sharing mechanisms between police and network administrators (Armitage 2002; Carr 2016; Hulme, Morgan & Brown 2015; Instrom Security Consultants 2014; Gill & Spriggs 2005; Wilson & Sutton 2003), and developments in footage quality and storage that have increased the potential value of CCTV cameras as a source of evidence (Taylor & Gill 2014).

Recent research has examined the role of CCTV in investigations into crime on public transport networks, both in Australia and overseas, reflecting the extensive camera coverage (and therefore financial investment) and concentration of criminal incidents that accompany the high volume of users. In the United Kingdom, studies have found pickpocketing (Sharp 2016) and metal theft cases on the railway network (Robb, Coupe & Ariel 2015) were significantly more likely to be solved when they occurred in locations monitored by CCTV cameras. Ashby (2017) found that cases in which the CCTV footage provided to police was assessed as being useful were 25 percent more likely to be solved than cases where the footage was assessed as not being useful. Most recently, research into the use of rail network CCTV footage in New South Wales revealed that police frequently requested footage (Morgan & Coughlan 2018)-an average 14 requests per day for criminal matters-and that requesting footage was associated with an increased likelihood of a matter being solved (cleared by way of legal action; Morgan & Dowling 2019). When footage was available and provided to police, matters were even more likely to be solved.

That the provision of useful footage appears to contribute to better investigation outcomes reflects the importance of well designed systems, but also that certain barriers can be encountered in using CCTV. Less favourable findings have emerged from research examining the benefits of CCTV in street and residential areas with less coverage (Coupe 2016; Kindgren & Marklund 2014; King, Mulligan & Raphael 2008; Olphin 2015; Paine 2012; Prenzler & Wilson 2018). Additionally, coverage and footage quality also vary markedly depending on the number of cameras monitoring an area and the different angles from which they monitor it; how cameras are mounted and whether they are static; their adaptability to times and environments of reduced lighting; the number of frames per second they record; whether there are major physical obstructions in the area of coverage; and whether systems use analog or digital recording technology (Gill & Spriggs 2005; Hulme, Morgan & Brown 2015; Instrom Security Consultants 2014; Keval & Sasse 2008; Levesley & Martin 2005; Taylor & Gill 2014). …

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