Issue Report: Crime cameras

Are crime cameras a good idea for cities around the world? In New Orleans?

Crime cameras are a relatively new development in crime fighting. With the technology behind cameras and information networks advancing dramatically in recent decades, the availability and affordability of crime cameras has increased. Cities around the world with high crime rates have, as a result, begun to test and implement crime camera programs designed to detect, prevent, and investigate crime. New Orleans, for instance – with escalating crime rates following Hurricane Katrina – has become a particularly high profile test case in the United States. This has occurred at the same time as – and sometimes as a result of – terrorism-related video surveillance programs springing up after September 11th, 2001 in cities such as London, New York, and Washington, DC. With the growth of crime camera programs around the world, the debate over whether they are indeed a good idea has grown as well. The debate revolves around a number of important questions: Are crime camera programs effective at helping predict criminal behavior, enabling effective crime response, deterring crime, and/or prosecuting crimes? Do crime cameras have an important social impact on the public sense of safety? Or, do citizens resent them as an eye-sore? Are crime cameras cost-effective or should police resources be spent elsewhere? Are crime cameras too expensive to maintain? Do crime cameras violate the privacy and civil liberties of citizens? Overall, do the pros outweigh the cons, suggesting that crime cameras are good public policy?

Crime fighting: Are crime cameras helpful in fighting crime?

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Crime cameras help reduce crime rates,

"Cameras have cut violence, study says". The Washington Post. February 21, 2008

“The report, prepared for the D.C. Council by the office of Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier, says violent crime increased about 1 percent citywide last year. But, it says, violent crime decreased 19 percent within 250 feet of each of the cameras, which the city began installing in August 2006. Property crimes increased 5 percent overall last year but 2 percent in the camera areas, the report says. ‘In the seventeen months since cameras were first installed in D.C.’s neighborhoods, the cameras have continued to have a positive impact on public safety in the city,’ the report says.”

Hi-tech crime cameras help predict and prevent criminal acts

ames Slack. “Caught Before the Act”. Daily Mail. November 28, 2008 – “CCTV cameras which can ‘predict’ if a crime is about to take place are being introduced on Britain’s streets. The cameras can alert operators to suspicious behaviour, such as loitering and unusually slow walking. Anyone spotted could then have to explain their behaviour to a police officer.”

Cameras speed up responses to crime and injuries.

Jenny Rees. "City cameras 'don't cut crime'". Whales Online. April 25, 2005

“they allow police officers to respond to incidents more quickly, reducing the number of people who attend hospital accident and emergency departments.”

FBI Reports on the effectivness and future of surveillance cameras.

"FBI on Human Identification and Recognition"

“This increase in numbers of cameras means that more and more criminals are being photographed in the commission of their crimes. As a result, these images are being used more and more often to link suspects to their crime.

Benefits of crime cameras may not be reflected in crime rates.

John Firman, the director of research at the International Association of Chiefs of Police, said a 2007 ABC article: “We know cameras enhance that capacity but saying for sure that they reduced crime by 20 percent, that’s another thing. Anecdotally, we know that they have had an impact.”[1]

Cameras make a small but valuable contribution to crime fighting.

Ken Garcia. "Debate over crime cameras brings out the clueless in S.F.". The Examiner. January 20, 2007

“The cameras by themselves are not a crime-solving strategy, but part of an overall network designed to stop criminals before or after the act.”

CCTV failing to cut crime

Huge investments in CCTV in the UK are failing to cut crime, with only 3% of London’s street robberies being solved using the footage.

Crime cameras have not had a significant impact on crime rates

Heather Knight. "Crime cameras not capturing many crimes". San Francisco Chronicle. March 21, 2008

“The cameras have been installed in phases on some of the city’s roughest streets since 2005 with large concentrations of them in the Western Addition and Mission District and others in the lower Haight, the Tenderloin and near Coit Tower. […] The cameras have contributed to only one arrest nearly two years ago in a city that saw 98 homicides last year, a 12-year high. The video is choppy, and police aren’t allowed to watch video in real-time or maneuver the cameras to get a better view of potential crimes.”

Own Bowcott. "CCTV boom has failed to slash crime, say police". Guardian. May 6, 2008

Massive investment in CCTV cameras to prevent crime in the UK has failed to have a significant impact, despite billions of pounds spent on the new technology, a senior police officer piloting a new database has warned. Only 3% of street robberies in London were solved using CCTV images, despite the fact that Britain has more security cameras than any other country in Europe.

Crime cameras may help prosecutions, but don't reduce crime.

Jim Harper, the director of information policy studies at the Cato Institute, was quoted saying in a July 2007 ABC article: “They are good forensic tools — after something happens, they’ll tell you what happened. […] But they do not provide protection against attacks, and that’s a key distinction.”[2]

Deterrence: Do crime cameras help deter crime?

Crime cameras help deter crime

"Facts about Crime cameras and the city of New Orleans". From the Office of Mayor Nagin

“These cameras help to identify who is involved with specific crimes and provide a deterrent to those who know the cameras are installed.”

Cameras can deter anti-social behavior such as littering

Adrienne Isnard. "Can surveillance cameras be successful in preventing crime and controlling anti-social behavior?". Australia Institute of Criminology. August 2, 2001

“Originally surveillance cameras systems were installed to deter burglary, assault and car theft but their use has been extended to include combating ‘anti social behaviour’, such as littering, urinating in public, traffic violations, obstruction, and drunkenness (Davies 1998).”

Surveillance cameras do not deter crime

Heather Knight. "Crime cameras not capturing many crimes". San Francisco Chronicle. March 21, 2008

“San Francisco’s 68 controversial anti-crime cameras haven’t deterred criminals from committing assaults, sex offenses or robberies – and they’ve only moved homicides down the block, according to a new report from UC Berkeley.”

Crime cameras cannot deter criminals that do not fear the law

Theodore Dalrymple. "Cameras, Crooks, and Deterrence". City Journal. October 16, 2007

“A recent study demonstrating this failure to improve the clear-up rate, however, could not also show that the cameras failed to deter crime in the first place. Common sense suggests that they should deter, but common sense might be wrong. For if the punishment of detected crime is insufficient to deter, there is no reason why the presence of cameras should deter.”

Shifting crime: Do crime cameras merely shift crime?

Shift in crime means cameras are working, should be expanded

If cameras shift crime away from an area, it means they are doing their job of tracking and deterring crime in an area. By subsequently expanding crime cameras, it may be possible to entirely flush crime out of a city.

Even shifting crime with cameras can benefit communities.

San Francisco Mayor said to the San Francisco Chronicle in 2008, “When I put the first cameras in, I said, ‘This may only move people around the corner. But the community there said, ‘We don’t care, we want our alleyway back.’ No one’s actually had a camera up that they wanted torn down in the community.”[3]

Surveillance cameras merely shift crime to different areas

Heather Knight. "Crime cameras not capturing many crimes". San Francisco Chronicle. March 21, 2008

San Francisco’s 68 controversial anti-crime cameras haven’t deterred criminals from committing assaults, sex offenses or robberies – and they’ve only moved homicides down the block, according to a new report from UC Berkeley.

Sense of safety: Do cameras create a sense of safety?

Crime cameras help restore a public sense of safety

In December, 2008, an armed robbery attempt in New Orleans failed after the victim, according to police, “…advised the suspect that there were several surveillance cameras in the area,” and walked safely away from the criminal.[4] The episode suggests that the victim felt that the cameras provided a critical layer of protection against the assailant. While law enforcers did not suggest that others pursue the same course of action as the victim in this story, it is clear that the crime cameras provided a real sense of safety for this man and probably for other members of his community as well.

Spending on cameras for a "sense of safety" is wasteful

Heather Knight. "Crime cameras not capturing many crimes". San Francisco Chronicle. March 21, 2008

“not all city officials think it’s wise to spend money on public safety measures if the best thing that can be said about them is they have a placebo effect for worried residents.”

Crime cameras offer a dangerous false sense of security

San Francisco Police Commissioner Joe Alioto-Veronese said to the San Francisco Chronicle in March 2008: “In their current configuration they are not useful, and they give people a false sense of security, which I think is bad.”[5]

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