Wednesday, May 7, 2008
A Candid Look at Cameras
It seemed to be the ‘smoking gun’ many were waiting for. One of Scotland Yard’s finest telling a security conference that CCTVs have been ‘an utter fiasco’, that only 3 per cent of street crime is solved using them, and that criminals had no fear of CCTV.
So what are the facts? Do CCTVs make us any safer?
London’s Transport Police say the cameras do work. It claims violent crime on trains and buses is down by half in the past year alone. But officers admit they have to find smarter ways to use the technology.
“The challenge for the police service is to constantly look for smarter ways to look for the product, so the images. “ says Paul Crowther of the British Transport Police. He adds that law enforcement officials are constantly asking themselves how they can use the footage more effectively.
“How do we quickly get those images out, how do we process them, how do we identify the people that were on them and then turn those into arrests so that we can reduce crime further by making it clear to people that CCTV means they are going to get locked up,” says Crowther.
Privacy advocates in Britain claim the country has one fifth of all the world’s CCTVs, at least one for every 14 people in the country. When you’re in Britain, you can be caught on camera hundreds of times per day.
Scotland Yards refuses to comment, but its internal audit suggests all those long lenses are short on results. Government statistics on crime rates have held steady in Britain in the last decade despite billions of dollars of investment in CCTV.
“Most of these problems are social problems and you can’t just get around them by introducing a flashy new technology,” says David Murakami Wood, a surveillance expert who studies its impact on society.
But there is compelling evidence that some crimes would never be solved without CCTV evidence.
In July 2005, CCTV cameras in London candidly caught three armed men viciously stab and beat two friends on a night out. Even though all of it was caught on tape, it seemed to make no difference to the criminals. One of the victims, Daniel Pollen died that night, but Andrew Griffiths, the other victim, survived to see his attackers convicted using CCTV evidence.
“Without it, there wasn’t a case really,” says Griffiths. “Due to the fact that I didn’t remember barely anything, the CCTV showed everything that happened, the way it happened,” he adds.
Experience authorities here in Britain point out that there is no way of knowing how or when CCTVs actually prevent crime.
“This is a wonderful tool for crime reduction and crime prevention but it’s not being used in the right way” says John O’Connor, a former Scotland Yard commander.
“Who knows how bad crime would be if it wasn’t for the CCTV?” he asks.
Watch my report here.
By International Security Correspondent, Paula Newton.
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