Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Video Surveillance of Public Places

Response Guide No. 4 (2006)

By Jerry Ratcliffe

Introduction

The purpose of this guide is to provide an overview of the use of closed circuit television (CCTV) systems as a problem-oriented policing response to a crime problem. This guide explores the benefits and problems associated with CCTV and summarizes the findings of numerous CCTV evaluations (see appendices A and B).

The public is now used to being watched by surveillance technology in many commercial and semi-public establishments such as banks, casinos, convenience stores, and shopping malls. About three-quarters of small businesses record who comes into their location on CCTV1. There are systems that recognize license plates on moving vehicles and systems that monitor traffic flow and catch people violating traffic laws. Although these systems fall under the label of video surveillance technology, they are not included in the discussion, as this guide is intended for the reader considering CCTV as a crime prevention option for a broader range of property and personal crimes in public places. Examples of relevant public spaces include:

  • Public parks
  • Pedestrianized streets in city centers
  • Outdoor public parking areas
  • Residential neighborhood streets
  • Public transport interchanges
  • Areas outside public facilities such as sports arenas and subway stations

Although some see CCTV as a panacea to crime and disorder in public places, others view the growth of CCTV as an intrusion, with visions of an Orwellian 'Big Brother' invading personal privacy. This guide will help you better understand the effectiveness of CCTV and address some constitutional and privacy concerns. The guide's two appendices (A and B) summarize much of the available research about the effectiveness of CCTV as a crime control measure. After you read this guide, you should not only be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of CCTV in a public setting, but also be able to answer many of the public's concerns.