Street cameras don’t deter crime. Actually the conclusion is more complicated than that, as this year a study conducted in cooperation with the Amsterdam police department focused on criminals and their perceptions of video cameras in public spaces. As it turns out, many criminals aren’t discouraged by cameras as they believe many aren’t on, recording live, or that anyone will respond quickly based on what images are captured.
The study was based primarily on interviews with just over 40 people who had been arrested for crimes in places where cameras had been present. They were asked about what they thought about cameras on the street and how, if it all, they influenced criminal behavior. Participants also spoke about what they knew in terms of camera technology and identifying different types of camera systems.
Based on participant answers researchers were able to categorize participants according to the type of criminals they are, ranging from impulsive (often first time offenders) to professional criminals. They learned that the more professional criminal knows types of camera systems and their limitations in the areas of quality of image, range, and whether they are live or not. Even the less experienced criminals mentioned doubt regarding the immediate impact being caught on camera could have.
In their conclusions the research team points to the problem of cameras without the option for immediate reaction, in places where there are cameras but no police to be dispatched immediately. Such situations are said to also help perpetuate the idea among criminals or potential criminals that nothing will happen even if there is a camera. Despite evidence indicating the ineffectiveness of cameras on the group of criminals in the study, they also received feedback regarding how and when street cameras do deter crime, especially proactively when cameras detect the early stages of a crime and law enforcement are dispatched immediately. Modern dome-style cameras that are now in use throughout many cities in the Netherlands and are cited for their superior quality of image and effectiveness when combined with other law enforcement tools.
The moral of the story: Criminals of all levels realize that cameras have technical and practical limitations. Having them everywhere doesn’t mean anything if they aren’t backed up by real law enforcement.
Source: Police and Scientific Research (in Dutch)
Photo: stevent / flickr