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How Effective is CCTV as a Crime Deterrent?

Back in 2014, it was estimated that there could be between around 4 and 6 million CCTV cameras in both private and public use across the UK (BSIA CCTV video).

Whether installed on private properties, commercial spaces or business premises, these numerous CCTV systems would have been installed with two primary operational uses in mind – to deter and to secure. CCTV facilitates these by:

  • Being a visible presence (and therefore deterrent) on properties;
  • Being available as a monitored service, for speedy response in the event of problems;
  • By recording footage as evidence;
  • By securing criminal convictions in the case of CCTV evidence provided being effective in court.

CCTV: effective is subjective

Since the 1980s, when use of CCTV surveillance in private and public use started to increase, there have been several studies on its overall effectiveness, particularly against crime.

Whilst initially studies were inconclusive on the topic of CCTV being effective as a deterrent, in recent years crime-specific studies, such as the College of Policing’s Effects of CCTV on Crime (2013 What Works? study) identified that CCTV can make a notable impact on local and national crime rates, apart from incidences of violent crime.

Where CCTV can offer an effective level of deterrent seems to be against those planned out crimes, such as trespass and burglary (via breaking and entering), car theft, car crime and other anti-social behaviour.

Indeed, CCTV has shown a growing effectiveness in deterring against vehicle crime, with vehicle crime particularly (including theft of and from vehicles) decreasing approximately 51% in those car parks deploying CCTV. The 2008 Effects of Closed Circuit Television Surveillance on Crime study noted that CCTV was effective for car crime.

CCTV: no alternative for policing

The What Works? study suggests that CCTV is possibly less effective when it comes to violent crime possibly because these tend to be impulsive crimes, likely to take place whether CCTV surveillance is in place or not. It’s this spur-of-the-moment aspect which concurred with those earlier studies which had also concluded that CCTV was possibly less effective in preventing those quick crimes – where cameras can be dodged or crimes can be committed and escape made before security personnel can arrive.

It’s partly in response to this that some CCTV systems in public areas, such as town and city centres are being reduced significantly, so that police patrols and street wardens can be funded instead (as reported by the BBC news magazine), something which also benefits community cohesion, safety and reassurance.

But on the home and business front…

Wired CCTV fitting

However, as most private businesses and households can’t afford the risk of loss and damage to their homes, nor private security personnel, CCTV systems are fast growing as a compromise between vigilance in safety, security, peace-of-mind and cost.

In fact, it’s almost proving to be the case as privately owned CCTV installations (carried out by companies and households) have risen significantly; private cameras now outnumber public cameras by 70:1. There are many ways in which CCTV benefits those private owners installing it, and also the general public, but there are four notable methods:

  • Caught red-handed: CCTV increases the chance of criminal acts being ‘witnessed’ and evidence being available to pursue a conviction.
  • No mistaken identity: CCTV recordings enhance the chances of correctly identifying and prosecuting criminals.
  • Hiding in plain sight: CCTV often has a wide range and can be deployed to cover those areas that criminals often use to access properties and locations, such as rear access points. Having “eyes-on” these areas can offer a significant deterrent.
  • Neighbourhood watch: where several properties use CCTV, it has the effect of extending a neighbourhood deterrent, making the area as a whole much less of a target for crime. It can also make the neighbourhood feel more secure as a community, as the presence of both private and public CCTV in an area can reduce street-crime.

CCTV: will it be effective for me?

So who are the property and business owners who are using CCTV as their most effective option when it comes to protecting their homes and premises against criminal elements? Generally, it’s owners with:

  • Empty properties – CCTV provides visible deterrent which could prevent the property from being targeted.
  • Properties which are vulnerable – where the owners are out all day and crime statistics for planned crimes such as burglary and car theft are high. Checking the crime statistics for your postcode can often reveal the extent of local risk. Homes in rural areas are also often a target for crime, especially during holiday periods.
  • Businesses which struggle with ‘out-of-hours’ security – all’s well when staff are on the premises, but after working hours, the premises becomes vulnerable, particularly if valuable stock is stored on-site.
  • Personal vulnerabilities, such as being a prior victim of crime, which mean they prefer the reassurance of having CCTV as a deterrent.

CCTV: Maximising its effectiveness

24hr CCTV Monitoring

To maximise effectiveness of CCTV as a deterrent, use in conjunction with other security measures, such as secure fencing, exterior lighting, sensor lighting and alarm systems. Consider too, the different types of CCTV systems. For example, 24 hour monitored CCTV can offer additional benefits, such as:

  • A cost-effective alternative to manned guarding;
  • Prompt response to problems;
  • Recording for identification and evidence purposes (such as criminal conviction and insurance purposes);
  • Facility to check on property remotely, ideal for vacant properties or businesses where it’s not just security which may need checking on but those things that can make a premises additionally vulnerable, such as damage after extreme weather or local rioting.

Although CCTV systems don’t have to be top-of-the-range or expensive to be effective, choose one which offers sufficiently high quality to be fit-for-purpose. Professional CCTV system providers can advise on whether a system should be wired or wireless (this depends on the situation) and it is vital to ensure that the system is properly installed in the best place for optimum deterrent and footage gathering.

Sometimes it’s useful to try blending security installations with the surroundings – like installing decorative rather than industrial-looking palisades to protect boundaries. However, when it comes to CCTV actually deterring criminals, it’s most effective when it’s visible.

It’s also worth considering installing CCTV at eye-level. Commissioner of Metropolitan Police, Bernard Hogan Howe is on record (The Telegraph) suggesting that every property (and particularly homes and businesses across London boroughs) could benefits from CCTV – not just as a high up deterrent, but at eye-level, to actively help the police identify criminals and solve crimes.

Finally, when it comes to deterring crime, it’s useful to know where you stand yourself, if installing CCTV, by being mindful of legislation in respect of privacy. The UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) offers advice and information about the Data Protection Act and using CCTV on your property, whilst your CCTV professionals at SafeSite Security Solutions are also available with help and advice about deterring crime through CCTV.

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