One in five councils have reduced the number of CCTV cameras on the streets since 2010, with some having no cameras at all. Cost should not be the reason for making decisions about the tools needed to keep the public safe. We have long argued for an approach based on community policing and the ‘broken windows’ experience from the USA. CCTV diverts resources away from efforts that have been proven to be more effective while increasing the blanket nature of public surveillance. Rather than just cutting cameras, how many councils are looking at what actually works to reduce crime?
Crime statistics from September 2012 showed that there had been an 8% decrease compared to the previous year’s survey; driven by significant reductions in vandalism, burglary and vehicle related theft. What is important is that crime is falling and the number of CCTV cameras is falling. Yet again the evidence demonstrates there’s – at best – a tenuous link and in reality no link between the number of CCTV cameras and crime levels.
The Freedom of Information request was submitted by Labour MP Gloria de Piero, of which 209 out of a total 326 local authorities in England responded to the request, 46 councils reported a reduction or have no “public facing” (not private cameras) CCTV cameras at all.
Ms de Piero has said: “CCTV is a vital tool in the fight against crime and the Government is making it harder for communities and authorities to use and place CCTV. Worryingly this also comes at a time when there are 15,000 fewer police officers and when many local authorities across the country have started to turn off street lighting just to save money.”
It is essential that CCTV is not a substitute for policing. The significant resources being spent on surveillance are diverting money away from policing methods that could prevent crime and protect the public. By using that same money that is currently being allocated to CCTV cameras there could be a significant increase in the nubers of police on the street preventing crimes from happening in the first place. Our research highlighted that the huge cost of installing, operating and maintaining CCTV cameras which, between 2007 and 2011, was £515 million. This could pay for 4,121 Police Constables or 5,894 PCSO’s.
The most important thing is that councils and the police use the most effective methods of keeping the public safe. Countless academic studies – and indeed the Home Office’s own research – show little link between public surveillance and crime. It is hoped that these figures will highlight the need to reassess the disproportionately high levels of CCTV use in Britain.