During the recent local Government elections, the Liberal Democrat candidates for my area campaigned in part on a ticket of installing more CCTV cameras. They didn’t really explain the benefits or trade-offs for the community, but they did claim the proposal was part of their strategy to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour. I emailed them about the issue and received this response:
[In our manifesto], we state there that we will invest in crime prevention through improvements to the built environment, supporting better lighting, alley gating and CCTV WHERE APPROPRIATE. It would be impossible to put CCTV on every street for example and we certainly would not want to do that. The wording “where appropriate” is key here. Where it has proven to be a deterrent for crime and most useful is in shopping precincts, car parks and “hotspots” of crime. This does make people feel safer and aids the apprehension of criminals.
While I applaud the idea of investing in environmental and street-lighting improvements, the fact is most CCTV installations are useless at preventing and detecting crime, and ineffective at reducing people’s fear of it.
We should be limiting camera surveillance to the few places – such as car parks – where it has been shown to have an impact. At the same time, the quality of CCTV images needs to be improved, as do the mechanisms for using video evidence in court. Fewer, targeted, high-quality systems complemented by good urban design and frequent visible police patrols would be a wiser way to spend council tax than mass surveillance. I hope this is what the Lib Dems have in mind when they call for more “appropriate” CCTV.
Disclosure: I am a member of the Liberal Democrat Party.