CRG 31/14-15: Surveillance technologies and crime control; understanding offenders’ perspectives on police body-worn video (BWV) cameras and CCTV

The use of surveillance technologies, in the form of closed-circuit television (CCTV) and police body-worn video cameras (BWCs), has become a feature of crime prevention and detection and plays an important role in police operations. While CCTV is in widespread use throughout Australia, evidence on the effectiveness of the technology for deterrence and detection and possible displacement remains mixed. There is also little evidence on the effectiveness of BWCs and their impact on interactions between police and members of the public. For both CCTV and BWCs there is a lack of evidence about how people who are acted against by the police perceive surveillance technology and whether it influences their crime-related decisions and behaviour at the time of arrest.

This study aimed to increase understanding of the perceptions and impacts of CCTV and BWCs through interviews with 899 adult police detainees, using an addendum to the Drug Use Monitoring in Australia (DUMA) program. Detainees were interviewed during the second half of 2015 at police watchhouses in four Australian state capital cities - Adelaide, Brisbane, Perth and Sydney.

Police detainees tended to regard CCTV as effective in reducing crime, particularly violent crime, but a significant number felt it would not prevent any crime. CCTV deterred some from committing crime, but had no deterrent effect for a substantial proportion. Detainees identified a range of simple strategies for avoiding surveillance cameras, such as covering their face or turning away from cameras. Findings suggest that police detainees are largely supportive of the use of police BWCs, but this was predicated on a number of operational and procedural requirements. The responses of detainees highlighted the need for evidence-based policy on the deployment of BWCs, in particular the need for clear guidelines and protocols about how and when they are operated.