Australian Institute of Criminology

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Effectiveness of public space CCTV systems

A number of studies have examined whether CCTV is an effective crime prevention strategy in public spaces. Many have suffered from methodological flaws and very few have been undertaken in Australia. Some key research findings are outlined below.

International research

A meta-analysis of research findings from 41 studies (22 of which relate to city or town centre systems) undertaken by Welsh and Farrington and published in a report released on 2 December 2008 stated the following:

Results of this review indicate that CCTV has a modest, but significant, desirable effect on crime, is most effective in reducing crime in car parks, is most effective when targeted at vehicle crimes (largely a function of the successful car park schemes) and is more effective in reducing crime in the United Kingdom than in other countries. These results lend support for the continued use of CCTV to prevent crime in public space, but suggest that it be more narrowly targeted than its present use would indicate. Future CCTV schemes should employ high-quality evaluation designs with long follow-up periods (Welsh & Farrington 2008).

Welsh and Farrington (2008: 19) further stated that 'exactly what the optimal circumstances are for effective use of CCTV schemes is not entirely clear at present'.

Australian research

One of the most comprehensive Australian studies of public space CCTV systems was undertaken by Wells, Allard and Wilson (2006) at Surfers Paradise and Broadbeach in Queensland. During the research, the authors undertook observational analysis (100 hours in control rooms), interviewed key personnel, reviewed relevant documentation, surveyed the public and analysed crime statistics.

Key research findings included:

From the 100 hour observational study of the [Gold Coast] control room, 181 incidents were surveillance (sic) by camera operators leading to 51 arrests. Just over 15% of the observational period was dedicated to the active monitoring and active searching of incidents with crime and good order (ie alcohol-related violence) accounting for over three-quarters of all incidents surveilled (sic) (Wells, Allard & Wilson 2006: ii).

From the survey research, the majority of respondents strongly supported the use of CCTV cameras. Although CCTV surveillance was generally not considered to be an invasion of privacy, respondents did question the effectiveness of surveillance in terms of deployment of police to an incident and whether cameras were being actively monitored (Wells, Allard & Wilson 2006: ii).

From the impact studies, it appears that CCTV is effective at detecting violent offending but does not prevent any type of offending. The introduction of CCTV in Surfers Paradise resulted in significant increases in the extent of total offences against the person (including assault, robbery, other offences against the person and sexual assault) and Weapons Act 1990 (Qld) offences. CCTV was found to have no significant impact on total offences, total offences against property (including other theft, unlawful entry, other property damage, unlawful use of a motor vehicle and handling stolen goods) and total other offences (including drug offences and liquor but excluding drunkenness) occurring in Surfers Paradise. Findings from Broadbeach indicated that CCTV had no impact on total offences, or total offences against property (Wells, Allard & Wilson 2006: iii).

This research prompted the authors to conclude

The effectiveness of CCTV as a crime prevention tool is questionable. From this research, it appears CCTV is effective at detecting violent crime and/or may result in increased reporting as opposed to preventing any type of crime (Wells, Allard & Wilson 2006: iii).