CCTV crime prevention

Recorded UK crime fell by 15% last year — the largest annual drop on record — and is down 60% on its 1995 post-war peak.
Recently at IFSEC Global quizzed figures from across the security industry on the extent to which CCTV has played a role in the decline in crime across the advanced economies. Keep reading for the responses from this debate.

Your chance of being murdered has plummeted by 50% since 2002 and figures across most crime categories have tumbled.

And this trend isn’t confined to the UK; across the western world crime has fallen steadily for a decade or more (as the Economist reported).

Competing with a plethora of other explanations — from locking up more criminals to an ageing population (most crime being committed by 15-30 year olds) and even better street lighting — the role of CCTV in this phenomenon is hotly disputed.

Making identification of criminals easier, might improvements in image quality have helped drive the trend’s acceleration? Unfortunately, however, the emergence of HD and facial-recognition technology strengthens the arguments of privacy campaigners as much as those of CCTV advocates.

The private security industry has certainly played its part in other ways — as Richard Jackson of Jackson Fencing argues below. The number of guards employed in Europe, for instance, has increased by 90% over the past decade and private security guards now outnumber police officers.

Whether CCTV’s greater ubiquity in the UK than the rest of Europe helps account for the fact that violent crime is falling faster in the UK than elsewhere in Europe is impossible to prove.

The CCTV manufacturer: Martin Gren, co-founder, Axis Communications and voted most influential person in security 2013

The declining crime trend has most likely been helped by high-definition cameras.

The ability to see in much better detail and effectively identify troublesome people is a big advantage. HD resolution and light-sensitive technologies like Lightfinder enable users to extend the capabilities of a video surveillance system.

Consider the city surveillance system adopted by the Police Department in Footscray, a suburb in Melbourne, Australia with 75,000 residents. An extensive city surveillance system helped improve the area significantly, creating a much safer environment for residents and local businesses. Real estate costs have risen remarkably since then as local residents feel much more secure living and working in the area.

The security director: Barrie Millet, acting director of health, safety, environment & resilience, E.ON UK

CCTV has played a role in reducing crime. I think much of that is down to organisations and end users utilising technologies and understanding operational requirements — why they are using CCTV and what they hope it will achieve.

About five years ago CCTV was seen as the ground zero of responding to crime and they put up cameras here, there and everywhere rather than understanding what they were trying to achieve.

Organisations and manufacturers have realised that it’s not a case of blanketing an area or business with CCTV; they’re really understanding their goals and making a strategic purchase.

And they are integrating CCTV with other systems, such as alarms, so it can be an event-driven tool.

Criminals understand CCTV and its downfalls and will exploit that. That’s why its effectiveness depends on being integrated rather than a standalone system.

If someone has a balaclava on and CCTV is passive, linked to a recording and people sift the data after the event then that’s one thing. But full effectiveness relies on being an actively monitored system and alerting mechanism.

Years ago prolific offenders could also rely on grainy pictures not standing up I court, whereas HD CCTV has secured numerous convictions.

The director of security: Bob Rose, ADS

As a former senior police officer I note with interest the falling crime rates. I also feel that as a representative of the security industry for the past seven years I’m in a position to comment on the role of technology.

Many crimes are committed in the public arena, including football disorder, night-time economy and crowded-places disorder, theft and associated crimes.

In my view, CCTV has been a major deterrent for potential terrorists and made a major contribution to the successful detection and prosecution of the 7/7 bombers.

The introduction and enhancement of CCTV and its use as an investigation and analytical tool has, in my view, greatly assisted in the reduction and detection of crime.

CCTV therefore also helps create a safer community and environment to live and work in.

But is CCTV used excessively? Are we living in a Nanny State or Big Brother State? We do, after all, deploy more CCTV in the UK than anywhere else in Europe.

I have a simple answer to that: if you’re law-abiding, concerned about national security and want a safer place for our children to live, then you’ve nothing to be concerned about.

The manufacturer of physical security solutions: Richard Jackson, CEO, Jacksons

Has crime really dropped? Plenty of reports suggest it is simply not worth reporting minor crimes, which clearly influences statistics.

Whilst CCTV can let you know what has happened, it is in my opinion ineffective in terms of actually preventing the criminal act [Richard elaborates on this argument here]. Installing a high quality security fence to deter intruders represents a perfect solution to preventing a breach in security, rather than simply recording it!

On moral/corporate responsibility grounds, security fencing has a pivotal role to play in averting accidents by impeding child access to a potentially hostile environment.

However, CCTV is essential to verify threats to security and represents a substantial cost saving when you consider the implications of employing manned guards to cover numerous locations.

CCTV can also shield a sole guard from the significant danger of being confronted by several intruders.

The integrator: Peter Houlis, MD, 2020 Vision Systems

There’s little doubt that video surveillance plays a key role in fighting crime and protecting people and assets.

Over the years, improvements in technology and the development of operational requirements have greatly improved its effectiveness. As a result, it has often led to the quick identification and prosecution of criminals — particularly committing comparatively minor but nonetheless prolific crimes such as antisocial behaviour, minor assault and theft.

It has also provided some spectacular results in high-profile crimes such as the 7/7 London bombings. As technology advances with improved HD image quality, video analytics such as facial recognition, auto tracking and, as operational lessons are learned, it is time to leverage value from our urban surveillance schemes — not only as a means of painting a visual picture of incidents and gathering evidence, but also to enable the police to deploy their resources more efficiently.

However, CCTV is no panacea and it would be unrealistic to credit CCTV alone with the decline in crime. In reality, it is more likely due to the creative collation and reporting of crime statistics.

The security services CEO: Peter Webster, CEO, Corps Security

I don’t think anyone can really say that lower crime stats are solely due to the increase in CCTV because there are so many other factors, such as the reporting of crime and supplementary crime prevention activities.

That said, there’s no doubt that the proliferation of CCTV has certainly made a contribution because criminals will always go for the soft target first. If it’s covered by CCTV they are more likely go somewhere else that isn’t. CCTV also offers an evidence trail that leads to prosecution — and that is a big deterrent.

The installer: Ric Martin, technical manager, Sensory Secure (Ric was interviewed by IFSEC Global about his life as an installer)

I wouldn’t say that CCTV is the main factor, but I would say it’s a contributing factor as the technology has improved massively over the last 10 years.

We now have technologies such as HD cameras, 4TB hard drives, advanced video and business level analytics, multi-sensor, wide-angle cameras capable of viewing entire football stands in great detail — enough to identify them in a crowd of thousands.

With all these technologies a system designer can now produce a CCTV system that can prevent a crime from happening, capture footage that identifies a criminal and provide high quality images for use in court.

The view from across the Atlantic: Bernard Robinson MBA/Global Business, Robinson Security Consultancy

Many factors are discussed regarding falling crime. However, CCTV is one factor that unhesitatingly enters the dialogue.

More than just an effective deterrent, CCTV also helps identify those engaged in unlawful acts. Because of its precise recording mechanism, CCTV renders exact data entries regarding date, time, location, actions of the perpetrators and imagery captured. And finally, because of material retrieved, the data assists in prosecution and/or conviction.

While opinions vary as to the extent of CCTV’s role in crime reduction, it is a cost-effective tool when confronting budget constraints. Its presence can also deter crime in a previously high-crime location; cover a large area and be centralized for observation; and render pinpoint accuracy for response and resolution.

Nevertheless, deliberations regarding its legality, cost and dependability will continue to rage in civil and criminal proceedings.

So to what degree should one invest in CCTV versus alternative measures that present higher success in the war on crime? CCTV is used everywhere: in public areas, businesses and the private domain.

Many contend that CCTV infringes on privacy. When evaluating policy, legality, general welfare against privacy pros and cons will continue to be brought forth.

This article was originally published by the IFSEC Global and can find the original here.

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