Police Scotland are currently undertaking a public consultation to seek Fifers views on the usage of CCTV, with a proposition to upgrade the existing CCTV network to utilise High Definition technology.

The current CCTV system was established in 2002 providing CCTV coverage across twelve towns in Fife, which included Lochgelly and was further extended to Cowdenbeath.

In 2012, Big Brother Watch conducted a series of Freedom of Information requests which discovered that Fife was the second most watched population in the United Kingdom with 1,420 cameras in place, which had more cameras than Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds combined.

The survey is to gauge public perception of CCTV cameras as part of the proposal that cameras should be upgraded to High Definition. An example of High Definition versus Standard Definition for CCTV cameras has been provided below and is best viewed full screen.

Does CCTV reduce crime?

There is no clear definitive answer as to whether or not CCTV reduces crimes, and many concerns have been raised that CCTV takes the UK one step closer to an ‘Orwellian’ society, a sentiment that was echoed by the then Deputy Chief Constable for Hampshire (2007); Ian Readhead;

I’m struggling with seeing the deployment of cameras in our local village as being a benefit to policing; I understand why the local public say this is what we want, but I’m really concerned about what happens to the product of these cameras, and what comes next? If it’s in our villages – are we really moving towards an Orwellian situation with cameras on every street corner? I really don’t think that’s the kind of country that I want to live in.

At the time, this concern was shared by the Police Federation’s vice chairman, Alan Gordon;

I have sympathy with members of the public who are not going to be committing crimes and feel they are being spied on. It should be down to consultation with people locally

The ethos behind CCTV systems is clearly defined in the following simplistic assumptions:

  1. Deterrence. The potential offender becomes aware of the presence of CCTV, assesses the risks of offending in this location to outweigh the benefits and chooses either not to offend or to offend elsewhere
  2. Efficient deployment. CCTV cameras allow those monitoring the scene to determine whether police assistance is required. This ensures that police resources are called upon only when necessary.
  3. Self discipline.
    By potential victims. They are reminded of the ‘risk’ of crime, therefore altering their behaviour accordingly.
    By potential offenders. The threat of potential surveillance (whether the cameras are actually being monitored may be irrelevant) acts to produce a self discipline in which individuals police their own behaviour.
  4. Presence of a capable guardian. The ‘Routine Activity Theory’ suggests that for a crime to be committed there must be a motivated offender, a suitable target and the absence of a capable guardian. Any act that prevents the convergence of these elements will reduce the likelihood of a crime taking place. CCTV, as a capable guardian, may help to reduce crime.
  5. Detection. CCTV cameras capture images of offences taking place. In some cases this may lead to punishment and the removal of the offenders’ ability to offend (either due to incarceration, or increased monitoring and supervision).

The effectiveness of CCTV in reducing crime in the Lochgelly area, taken from a FOI request in 2009 is statistically low;

Between 1 January 2009 and 31 December 2009, 645 crimes were recorded as having been committed in the Lochgelly area. Of these crimes, 312 were detected.

It is not possible to identify those crimes where CCTV played a part in their detection without reviewing each one. As this information is not readily accessible, easily identifiable or held in a retrievable format and the research required to look into this further would impact significantly on staff time and resources, Therefore, under the terms of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002, Section 12 Excessive cost of compliance applies.

It should be noted that the crimes detailed above are recorded as having been committed in the overall locality area of Lochgelly and are not restricted to those areas covered by CCTV.

In that last year, 63 incidents were captured on CCTV and Officers requested 73 reviews of historical CCTV footage.

Whether or not CCTV does reduce crime cannot be answered as most studies have been methodologically invalid for a variety of reasons including;

  • inadequate pre and post CCTV time periods in which data are collected
  • no account taken of seasonal variations
  • no control areas for comparison
  • little discussion of displacement or diffusion of benefits
  • presentation of percentages without ‘n’ values (ie the size of the sample was not specified)
  • lack of independent evaluation

A briefing paper ‘To CCTV or not to CCTV‘ by NACRO to help inform community safety practitioners of the effectiveness of CCTV, concluded;

  • Evidence reveals that in many cases the effects of CCTV upon crime within an area begin before the cameras actually become operational, suggesting that deterrence may have a greater role to play that detection.
  • CCTV has least effect upon public disorder offences and most effect when used in car parks.
  • CCTV can be most beneficial when used in conjunction with other crime reduction measures and when tailored to the local setting.
  • CCTV monitoring has been shown to be discriminatory.

Other papers and studies worth noting include;

“Public Area CCTV and Crime Prevention: An Updated Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis”
Key Findings: The analysis found that surveillance systems were most effective in parking lots, where their use resulted in a 51% decrease in crime. Systems in other public settings had some effect on crime — a 7% decrease in city centers and in public housing communities, and a 23% drop in public transit systems — but the results weren’t statistically significant. When sorted by country, systems in the United Kingdom accounted for the majority of the decrease; the drop in other countries was insignificant. The study concludes that while surveillance cameras can be effective in specific contexts such as parking lots and public-transit systems, the potential financial and societal costs require greater research.
‘Effects of Closed Circuit Television Surveillance on Crime’
Key Findings: the evaluations of CCTV schemes in city and town centers and public housing measured a much larger range of crime types and only a small number of studies involved other interventions. These CCTV schemes, as well as those focused on public transport, did not have a significant effect on crime.
The Cambridge evaluation of the effects of CCTV on crime
Key Findings: the Cambridge evaluation is consistent with prior research in showing no significant desirable effect of CCTV on crime in city centres.
Data on London crime figures vs. number of cameras
Key Findings: In 2007 members of the London Assembly obtained information under the Freedom of Information Act that showed CCTV has little effect on solving crime. The statistics show that more CCTV cameras does not lead to a better crime clear-up rate. In fact, four out of five of the boroughs with the most cameras have a record of solving crime that is below average At that time London had over 10,000 council/police run cameras.
Assessing the impact of CCTV Home Office Study 292
Key Findings: It would be easy to conclude from the information presented in this report that CCTV is not effective: the majority of the schemes evaluated did not reduce crime and even where there was a reduction this was mostly not due to CCTV; nor did CCTV schemes make people feel safer, much less change their behaviour.

Impulsive crimes (e.g. alcohol-related crimes) were less likely to be reduced than premeditated crime (e.g. theft of motor vehicles). Violence against the person rose and theft of motor vehicles fell in the target areas in accordance with national trends in recorded crime.

Towns on Television: Closed Circuit TV Systems in British Towns and Cities Local Government Studies
Key Findings: CCTV may actually undermine the natural surveillance in towns and communities . . . the result may be a further spiral of social fragmentation and atomization, which leads to more alienation and even more crime.
Effect of closed circuit television on urban violence, Violence Research Group, University of Wales, Cardiff
Key Findings: If there had been a significant deterrent effect as a result of CCTV installation then a decline in police detection of violence rather than the noted increase would have occurred. This study provides no evidence of a deterrent effect.

Whilst the Government, Local Authorities and some within the Police forces highlight the effectiveness of CCTV systems, many studies highlight only a small significant increase in crime reduction within areas of CCTV installed in public areas. As a crime reduction tool, CCTV appears to be most effective in reducing car thefts, criminal damage to vehicles, when CCTV is utilised in public parking facilities.

This is highlighted in the College of Policing briefing ‘The effects of CCTV on Crime‘;

The review finds that use of Close Circuit Television (CCTV) can lead to a small reduction in crime. CCTV is more effective when directed against specific types of crime; it is effective at reducing theft of and from vehicles, but has no impact on levels of violent crime.

Is there any purpose of increasing CCTV cameras to High Definition in the Lochgelly and Cowdenbeath area? Or should the police concentrate resources in returning police officers back onto the street, in more traditional roles, whereby the police officer is known to residents and has developed a rapport with residents and the criminal sector?

To have your say on any of the issues, you can take part in the Police Scotland consultation at: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/FD6JS7H

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