The Ineffectiveness of Security Cameras

Data from San Francisco:

Researchers examined data from the San Francisco Police Department detailing the 59,706 crimes committed within 1,000 feet of the camera locations between Jan. 1, 2005, and Jan. 28, 2008.

These were the total number of crimes for which police had reports -- regardless of whether the crimes were caught on video. The idea was to look at whether criminals stopped committing crimes at those locations because they knew cameras were there.

Using a complicated method, researchers were able to come up with an average daily crime rate at each location broken out by type of crime and distance from the cameras. They then compared it with the average daily crime rate from the period before the cameras were installed.

They looked at seven types of crime: larcenies, burglaries, motor vehicle theft, assault, robbery, homicide and forcible sex offenses.

The only positive deterrent effect was the reduction of larcenies within 100 feet of the cameras. No other crimes were affected -- except for homicides, which had an interesting pattern.

Murders went down within 250 feet of the cameras, but the reduction was completely offset by an increase 250 to 500 feet away, suggesting people moved down the block before killing each other.

The final report is expected to analyze the figures in more depth and to include other crimes, including prostitution and drug offenses.

This quote is instructive:

Mayor Gavin Newsom called the report "conclusively inconclusive" on Thursday but said he still wants to install more cameras around the city because they make residents feel safer.

That's right: the cameras aren't about security, they're about security theater. More comments on the general issue here.

Posted on April 7, 2008 at 1:33 PM • 75 Comments

Comments

bobApril 7, 2008 1:58 PM

I think once people get used to cameras being ubiquitous they stop worrying about being seen and go ahead and do whatever they were doing before the camera came along. And since no one is actually WATCHING the cameras it doesn't matter from a crime reduction perspective.

That said, I do plan on putting some cameras around my house so I (and hackers) can log in during the day and see what is happening in my driveway and back yard.

greenupApril 7, 2008 2:13 PM

The terrible thing as I see it is that the mayor thinks it is a good idea to feel safer when you are actually not.

Of course, politicians frequently want us to feel in threatened when the danger is actually very low, so I guess I should expect it.

erikApril 7, 2008 2:15 PM

Does the report describe whether the cameras helped solve any crimes after the fact?

Frank Ch. EiglerApril 7, 2008 2:17 PM

> The idea was to look at whether criminals stopped committing crimes at those locations because they knew cameras were there.

Another metric worth collecting is whether prosecution of those crimes that were within camera range became easier. That could provide economic (and indirectly, judicial) benefits, even if the deterrent effect is weak.

Shall We Say It AgainApril 7, 2008 2:17 PM

"Murders went down within 250 feet of the cameras, but the reduction was completely offset by an increase 250 to 500 feet away, suggesting people moved down the block before killing each other."

Once again, this success is cited as if it were a failure. Unbelievable.

The fact that the cameras are working, and that crime contiunes to take place AWAY from the cameras, having been moved away from where the cameras are surveilling, is supposed to be a fault of security cameras.

Exactly how does that thinking work?

The painfully obvious answer is to keep installing cameras until you have the entire area covered that you want covered, and crimes will be pushed completely out of the area.

Why is that so difficult to comprehend?

Michael AshApril 7, 2008 2:25 PM

"The painfully obvious answer is to keep installing cameras until you have the entire area covered that you want covered, and crimes will be pushed completely out of the area."

This may be "obvious" but there's no evidence to support it.

Right now, all we know is that crime tends to get pushed away from cameras when the cameras are far apart. You extrapolate this to mean that crime will get pushed out of the area entirely once cameras are so close together that you can't get away from them at all. This is fine, but you present it as fact, which it is not. It would be entirely reasonable to suppose that such a tight camera network would just put crime back where it was.

What's more, pushing crime out of the area is a rather sad goal. The same harm is being done, just to different people. What's the benefit in that?

SkorjApril 7, 2008 2:27 PM

"The painfully obvious answer is to keep installing cameras until you have the entire area covered that you want covered, and crimes will be pushed completely out of the area.

Why is that so difficult to comprehend?"

Right, since ubiquitous surveillance works so well in prisons, for example. Oh, wait ...

The real point here is that seasoned criminals will always know where the blind spots are in any surveillance network.

bickerdykeApril 7, 2008 2:33 PM

@greenup

>The terrible thing as I see it is that the mayor thinks it is a good idea to feel safer when you are actually not.

But I dont think it's bad idea to feel safer when you're not in danger.

And if you conclude, living an an area _not_ controlled by camera, you're falling for the same thing.

Shall We Say It Again April 7, 2008 2:35 PM

@Michael Ash

"It would be entirely reasonable to suppose that such a tight camera network would just put crime back where it was."

No it wouldn't be entirely reasonable. The choice of "Crap, I really don't want to be caught, even though I'm a stupid criminal. And I think those cameras will catch me. Maybe I won't commit this crime after all." is more probable with the cameras than without. The evidence is the study cited.

"pushing crime out of the area is a rather sad goal. The same harm is being done, just to different people. What's the benefit in that?"

I agree. That's why I don't innoculate my children. The poor bugs will just infect some other kids, and why is that good?

And I'm not against the war in Iraq; if that was stopped, I know those weapons and violence will just be exported elsewhere, to kill other people who otherwise may well have lived.

If we can't help everybody, everywhere at the same time, I don't want to help anybody, anywhere, ever.

AnonymousApril 7, 2008 2:37 PM

@Shall We Say It Again

"The painfully obvious answer is to keep installing cameras until you have the entire area covered that you want covered, and crimes will be pushed completely out of the area."

As the article says "[...] the reduction [in homicides] was completely offset [...]" So whether Alice kills Bob inside of 250' from a camera, or beyond 250' from a camera, Bob still remains dead.

This is a problem, especially if the argument for the installation of the cameras is that Bob, and everyone else who is a potential homicide victim, will be safer.

Shall We Say It Again April 7, 2008 2:41 PM

@Skorj

"since ubiquitous surveillance works so well in prisons, for example."

People (criminals, for instance) can't leave prisons. Prisons are closed, sealed environments.

Neighborhoods are not closed, nor sealed. Criminals are free to leave, and commit their crimes elsewhere, where they believe they may have less chance of getting caught.

"The real point here is that seasoned criminals will always know where the blind spots are in any surveillance network."

If we can't stopped these genius seasoned criminals, we shouldn't try to stop ANY of them. If I get murdered by an amateur murderer, at least I won't feel embarrassed by having been murdererd by a seasoned murderer, because my cameras failed against him.

Equal opportunity, and all.

AnonymousApril 7, 2008 2:42 PM

@Shall We Say It Again

"That's why I don't innoculate my children. The poor bugs will just infect some other kids, and why is that good?"

Are you being deliberately dense?

This study says that the number of murders remains the same, whether or not the cameras are installed.

Feel free to compare to this to inoculation programs.

Michael AshApril 7, 2008 2:45 PM

"If we can't help everybody, everywhere at the same time, I don't want to help anybody, anywhere, ever."

The problem isn't that the help is limited. The problem is that when you move crime, any help you provide is completely offset by increased harm to other people. The net gain is ZERO. In fact, the net gain is NEGATIVE because you've spent a bunch of money on cameras.

I'm all for partial solutions over nothing. But when your partial solution just moves the problem around and doesn't reduce it in any way, that is not actually a partial solution at all.

Also, please don't put words in my mouth by pretending to agree with me. I think that we're all reasonable adult here and we should be able to carry on a rational debate without such distasteful tactics.

CameramanApril 7, 2008 2:49 PM

I'm sure the uselessness of San Fransisco's CCTV system has nothing to do with the fact that the network infrastructure is so underpowered that D1 resolution cameras capable of 30FPS are running at quarter CIF at 8FPS or worse because of bandwidth issues. Not to mention the fact that the amount of storage they installed for the project is laughable at best. SF basically paid $900,000 for a surveillance system that doesn't- can't- work.

Mayor Newsom's responce? They're spending another $200,000 on another 23 cameras.

Idiots.

Shall We Say It AgainApril 7, 2008 2:49 PM

@Anonymous

"So whether Alice kills Bob inside of 250' from a camera, or beyond 250' from a camera, Bob still remains dead."

You missed the rest of the sentence: 'Murders went down within 250 feet of the cameras ... suggesting people moved down the block before killing each other."

The moved down the block to an unsurveilled part. Why? Perhaps because the camera triggered the thought that they might be caught for what they were about to do, and they didn't want to be caught?

If that part "down the block" had been surveilled, it's possible the same thought process would have occurred, and they would have moved still farther.

Now picture an avenue wil cameras placed x feet apart for 15 miles. Now picture it at 38 miles. Now at 126 miles, or as big as your neighborhood (all of L.A., perhaps) might be.

At which point does the murderer say, "Stop here! Here's the camera in front of which I want to commit the murder." ?

Shall We Say It Again April 7, 2008 2:55 PM

@Michael Ash

"The problem isn't that the help is limited."

Are you kidding? Do you think the wealth to pay to solve problems in the world comes from a topless mountain? (Or bottomless pit?) Limitation on help is a massive problem.

"But when your partial solution just moves the problem around and doesn't reduce it in any way"

How did you measure the crimes that weren't committed? Prove there's no crime reduction.

If you're going to solve a problem, there are two ways to go about it: solve all of it at once, or less than that.

You've got to start somewhere.

ChrisApril 7, 2008 3:03 PM

Why bother with the expense of actual cameras. If the mayor wants people to feel safer without actually caring about whether they are safer it would be a lot cheaper to just put up empty camera housings.

AnonymousApril 7, 2008 3:10 PM

@Shall We Say It Again

"Perhaps because the camera triggered the thought that they might be caught for what they were about to do, and they didn't want to be caught?"

I guess you just forgot that, like almost all other studies like this, all other crimes showed no change, before or after the cameras. So lacking a clear model why murder (relatively rare to begin with) is any different than much more common crimes, as Michael Ash noted, your theory is unsupported by any evidence.

LeoApril 7, 2008 3:10 PM

@Michael Ash
"This may be "obvious" but there's no evidence to support it."

There clearly IS evidence to support it. The fact that cameras tend to push homicides away from their immediate vicinity is clear evidence in support of the idea that more cameras are the solution to homicide. It's not proof but it is most definitely evidence. Your argument, that at some density cameras will suddenly stop having influence on crime not only lacks evidence, it lacks rationality as well. It might be true, but there's zero evidence here for it, and therefore absolutely no reason to believe it true.

"What's more, pushing crime out of the area is a rather sad goal. The same harm is being done, just to different people. What's the benefit in that?"

That only makes sense under the assumption that the world is infinite. The world is finite. If homicides can be driven to places that people can avoid, like the middle of oceans, then homicides can be eliminated. How is that a "rather sad goal"?

There may be good arguments that ubiquitous surveillance is undesirable. Arguing from the FACT that cameras have a positive influence on crime to the conclusion that more cameras won't continue to have a positive influence on crime, as both you and Bruce, with his "security theater" comment, do, is simply nonsensical.

Y'all are basically saying evidence that cameras have a (small but real) positive influence on crime in their vicinity is proof that cameras have no influence on crime. How do you not see the fundamental contradiction there, unless your opposition to security cameras is simply not rational? Argue that the statistics are flawed. Argue that there are other harms from the cameras more important than the small crime reduction. Don't argue based on a contradiction. It only makes you and your argument appear irrational and deserving to be simply ignored.

AnonymousApril 7, 2008 3:13 PM

@Shall We Say It Again

"Prove there's no crime reduction."

?

The very study you are quoting as a "success" says there was no reduction.

DaleApril 7, 2008 3:13 PM

There's a reason why security companies sell empty cameras (with the bonus LED). It's for those cost vs security tradeoff issues.

Shall We Say It AgainApril 7, 2008 3:14 PM

@Anonymous

"I guess you just forgot that, like almost all other studies like this, all other crimes showed no change, before or after the cameras. So lacking a clear model why murder (relatively rare to begin with) is any different than much more common crimes, as Michael Ash noted, your theory is unsupported by any evidence."

See Leo's response to Michael Ash.

AnonymousApril 7, 2008 3:21 PM

@Leo

"If homicides can be driven to places that people can avoid, like the middle of oceans, then homicides can be eliminated. How is that a "rather sad goal"?"

I live in an extended urban area that has an area of at least 1000 square kilometers. At 100m radii, it would take about 100,000 cameras to cover it all at the density required to achieve whatever slight reduction in the homicide rate noted by this study.

Also remember that this would have no effect on any other criminal activity, per this study.

Now, at 100,000 cameras, 30fps ... heck, you can do the arithmetic as well as I can.

DaleApril 7, 2008 3:21 PM

Gas stations, convenience stores, and currency exchanges have cameras, but they still have a never ending supply of crime committed in front of the camera.

What makes one think that blanketing a city with cameras will prevent outdoor crime in that city? Criminals are optimists and/or desperate.

AnonymousApril 7, 2008 3:24 PM

@Shall We Say It Again

"See Leo's response to Michael Ash."

Leo also ignored the fact that other criminal activity was unaffected by the presence of the cameras.

Shall We Say It Again April 7, 2008 3:28 PM

@Anonymous

"The very study you are quoting as a "success" says there was no reduction."

It sure does. And I say to its authors: prove it.

If 12 crimes happened in the month before the camera installation, and 12 crimes happened during the month after the camera installation, that is not the same thing as proving "no crime reduction." What it is, is "no change in the previous rate." There could have been 15 more crimes that were 'scheduled' to happen after that camera installation, but didn't, as a result of the installation. So the real numbers would be over "100 % less" crime. See how the numbers get manipulated?

Obviously it can be exceedingly difficult to prove a negative, because it's difficult to measure all the phenomena in even a small area for a small period of time. But if those at UC Berkeley's Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society want to make that claim, let them prove it. You understand, of course, that such proof would include the crime that Potential Criminal # 1 did NOT commit, two days later, as a result of becoming aware of the presence of security cameras in the area in question.

This strikes me as quite difficult to prove the existence or non-existence of, unless a would-be criminal comes forth and says, "I was gonna commit a crime, but I didn't, as a result of becoming aware of the presence of security cameras in the area in question." All the other criminals will need to be polled also.

This is what is entailed in claiming that there is no reduction in crime. There could have been 17 crimes that were reduced, but since they didn't happen, how do we know how many were reduced?

AnonymousApril 7, 2008 3:37 PM

@Shall We Say It Again

"And I say to its authors: prove it."

Then you have come to the wrong place.

"There could have been 15 more crimes that were 'scheduled' to happen after that camera installation, but didn't, as a result of the installation. So the real numbers would be over "100 % less" crime. See how the numbers get manipulated?"

Oh, so the crime rate would have gone _up_ had it not been for the cameras?

Now that is a positive assertion, requiring proof. As the author of the claim, feel free to offer up evidence.

eNixApril 7, 2008 3:43 PM

@Shall We Say It Again

Was going to give a 7/10, but the responses so far warrant a 9/10. Bravo!

BryanApril 7, 2008 3:45 PM

The inner party can use ubiquitous surveillance to keep the outer party safe and relocate crime to the proles!

Ignorance is Strength

Michael AshApril 7, 2008 3:46 PM

The fundamental problem in this discussion is that the participants have different mental models for how crime works. Since the mental models don't match, there is obviously a great deal of misunderstanding and conflict.

One model I would call the "dike" model. In this model, crime is analogous to water coming onto your land from the ocean. You put up a dike to stop it. A partial dike is ineffective because the water just comes in through the places where the dike isn't built yet. But once the dike is continuous, you'll stop all the water from getting in, and problem solved.

The other model I would call the "dam" model. In this model, crime is analogous to water coming onto your land from a river. You put up a dam to stop it. A partial dam is just as ineffective, because the river comes through the parts where there is no dam. But a continuous dam is ALSO ineffective, because the river has a continuous rate of flow which cannot be altered. If your dam completely blocks the river, then it will simply overflow the dam. A certain flow of water will pass through no matter what you do.

In the first model, crime continues until cameras are ubiquitous, at which point it stops due to lack of opportunity. In the second model, crime continues no matter what because criminals merely find the least risky place available for their deed.

Which one is correct? It's hard to say. It should be clear from what I've been arguing that I believe the "dam" model is correct. What should be clear is that the results of this study fit both models equally well. The only way to really find out which way things work is to blanket a truly huge area with cameras, an area so large that it's impractical to leave it to commit a crime. If crime then drops in that area, the "dike" model is correct. If crime stays the same and just moves to whatever places in the system are the least covered, the "dam" model is correct.

It would be nice if there were an easier way to determine which model is correct (or if there is a third model which is actually correct), but I can't think of what it would be.

LeoApril 7, 2008 3:54 PM

@Anonymous
"Leo also ignored the fact that other criminal activity was unaffected by the presence of the cameras."

No, I didn't. I was in fact rather specific in my comments. Apparently people named "Anonymous" have as much trouble reading as they do thinking clearly.

AnonymousApril 7, 2008 3:58 PM

@Shall We Say It Again

First of all, I think someone here needs to get a day job.

But simply responding to your last over-zealous commentary:

If someone's best-shot independent study on the effect of these cameras on the crime rate in the immediate vicinity show such little 'apparent' change (apparent in quotes to appease your faith-based call to arms on 'proof'), then my simple answer is that I'd rather not spend nearly a billion dollars in tax-payer money for lo-tech toys that 'apparently' do very little.

In fact, albeit lacking 'proof', I would wager that using every cent of the money spent on those cameras to help appease the poverty stricken neighborhoods in the area might have actually, notably (and maybe even with some hard-numbered 'proof' for the hard-headed) lowered the crime rates dramatically.

MLK would've thought so at least, I'd have seconded him.

Lawrence PingreeApril 7, 2008 4:03 PM

Just like all other technologies, detections are only half the battle. Its "action" which wins the war. The fact that you now have video to "convict" is an important factor to consider since this is most often lacking in most street crimes without video data. I personally think we play a fine line sometimes with still keeping our humanity when we monitor the public to this extent. There are abuses that occur even today with monitoring technology and I'm worried when we rely more heavily on this data to create more laws and launch new morality campaigns on society.

alanApril 7, 2008 4:05 PM

I think the reason that the cameras have so little effect on crime is that most criminals know how crappy the cameras are in actually presenting a clear image. When I see security camera footage on the news most of the time the image is useless in recognizing anyone. Unless the installer spends some real money the resulting images are muddled garbage and not useful to anyone.

Another thing... If cameras were such a deterrent, then bank robberies should be a thing of the past. Lots of cameras in banks, yet people still rob them. (The smart ones just do it off camera and rob them from the board room.)

CameramanApril 7, 2008 4:07 PM

What we have here is people not understanding the purpose of CCTV. Cameras may (or may not) provide a mild deterent, but they cannot stop a crime in progress. The thing CCTV is most usefull for is crime solving. And that's only if you set it up right.

TomApril 7, 2008 4:17 PM

Given that the public fear of crime seems to be almost entirely unrelated to the actual prevalence of crime - certainly in my home city of London, I don't know about San Francisco - it's not necessarily an illegitimate aim to make people feel safer. The fear of crime that someone has may well have just as big an effect on them as actual crime that happens to them; someone who never goes out because they fear being mugged is clearly suffering a significant loss.

derfApril 7, 2008 4:34 PM

Check the Darwin Awards website. With criminals like these, cameras don't matter.

"According to the FBI, most modern-day bank robberies are "unsophisticated and unprofessional crimes," committed by young male repeat offenders who apparently don't know the first thing about their business. For instance it is reported that in spite of the widespread use of surveillance cameras, 76% of bank robbers use no disguise, 86% never study the bank before robbing it, and 95% make no long-range plans for concealing the loot."

old guyApril 7, 2008 5:10 PM

I'd have to agree in part with Dale and Alan.

There's a lot of different criminal elements out there, each with their own motives. Some don't care about getting caught, or passions are just too strong at the moment to care. There's a ton of variables to factor in, including time and exposure.

anonymous canuckApril 7, 2008 5:20 PM

It continually amazes me that some people actually seem to believe that they will may a *preventative* difference.

The only thing that cameras *may* do is to make the prosecution of crimes after the fact easier. It also *may* cut down on repeat offenders. None of this has been solidly established. The only comfort I *might* get from this is that they catch the person(s) responsible and be able to put them away for a long time.

Of course, all of the above has to be setup correctly and all of the evidence has to be protected properly.

There is an interesting observation from this study. The crimes that were "pushed" outside of camera range smell of premeditation. Or at least a realization at the time that the criminal knew they were about to comit a crime.

I'm curious what the *real* cost benefit to do all of this properly is.

I'm also just waiting for the first person who can afford a really good legal team to challenge these.

It'll be an interesting ride. But "safer", I think not.


Bryan FeirApril 7, 2008 5:40 PM

@derf:

My father was a bank manager. I remember him telling me a story at one point, of a local bank being robbed... the 'kid' (twenty years old or so) who did it was caught in a bar only about a block away from the bank, where he'd gone in and loudly bought a round of drinks for everybody, paying for it out of the paper bag full of money he'd just got from the bank. A paper bag with the bank's logo on it.

These days, bank robbers are the shallow end of the criminal gene pool. The smart ones know there are plenty of ways to get money with much less chance of getting caught at it.

InfospongeApril 7, 2008 5:53 PM

Cameras aren't only for security theater: they're vital weapons in the war on the unexpected. They're great for spotting lite brites, misidentifying camera tripods as machine guns, and perfect for the favorite game of harassing people who engage in creative civil disobedience.

partdavidApril 7, 2008 6:40 PM

There's a well-established ecology between "most bank robbers" and banks--banks could be much harder to rob with a note, but it's intentionally easy to do so. Because the amount of money involved is trivial, because they are usually caught with the aid of surveillance camera footage and so forth, and because raising the bar of effort for robbing a bank would make those who do insist on higher rewards and make the situation more dangerous for everybody.

David HarrisonApril 7, 2008 6:41 PM

@erik - that was my first thought, too, but it seems noone has opted to answer your question, which I find interesting on a few levels.

Question the first: How many more crimes were solved and the guilty party brought to justice _because_ of the cameras?

Question the second: Is the above a metric that should even be considered?

That is, should we care about that statistic when it comes to deciding what to do about cameras? Or should the only thing that matters in "crime management" be the actual _prevention_ of a crime?

Obviously prevention, especially in this case, is better than a cure. But I have to figure that being able to more effectively catch and prosecute criminals is at least a somewhat beneficial side-effect of having cameras (... assuming the cameras is actually helping in this regard).

VickiApril 7, 2008 7:19 PM

If people who are claiming that cameras reduce crime are dismissing the statistics comparing crime rates before and after the cameras were installed, there's an obvious question: Can they prove that installing presence didn't increase the crime rate over what it would have been in the absence of cameras? (Logically, it's as fair a question as their asking other people to prove that the cameras didn't decrease the crime rate. You still can't prove the negative. Let's try working with actual evidence, such as there is.)

AnonymousApril 7, 2008 8:37 PM

@David Harrison

"How many more crimes were solved and the guilty party brought to justice _because_ of the cameras?"

I'm no expert googler, but I can't find anything on this subject, though others have asked it in the past. One speculates that it would be even more difficult to prove than the "before vs. after" crime rate studies (already difficult to conduct -- which is itself a telling fact).

One possible reason is derived from @partdavid's comments on ecology and simple conservation of mass arguments: if the government convicted everyone it brought to trial, the jails would be full (and more) ... lickety-split. So if video evidence turned out to be especially powerful, then I think we could expect that the bias would shift to prosecuting cases with such evidence, and tend not to prosecute others, with the ratio equilibrating to a value where the "criminal production rate" would remain unchanged.

About the only way to definitively untangle this effect would be either empty the jails prior to each phase of the experiment, or to build lots of new prison space in addition to installing the cameras.

AnonymousApril 8, 2008 3:22 AM

@Michael Ash:

> Which one is correct? It's hard to say. [...] The only way to really
> find out which way things work is to blanket a truly huge area
> with cameras, an area so large that it's impractical to leave it to
> commit a crime. If crime then drops in that area, the "dike" model
> is correct.

One word: London.

Sam ParisApril 8, 2008 7:04 AM

Well, all we have to do is keep planting more cameras until there is no place to hide--surely that's easy enough. How hard would it be to blanket, say, Chicago with cameras?

Chicago is roughly 10 miles by 20, and if a camera is good for 250 feet, you need about 20 per mile. So, 10X20X20X20=80,000 cameras. At how much, per camera?

I had thought this was a reductio ad absurdum, until Dimitris' comment about London tickled my Google reflex--London has 10,000 cameras. Sadly, the investment doesn't seem to have done them a lot of good: http://tinyurl.com/2tfjyf

vwmApril 8, 2008 8:04 AM

Talking about trade-offs and alternatives:

Who shall monitor 80,000 cameras (as calculated by Sam Paris)? And what about sending (at least some of) those "watchman" on the streets instead of installing cameras? Other than cameras, they are able to intervene...

bobApril 8, 2008 8:19 AM

Cameras only decrease crime when there is a monitoring person behind each one and a cop standing by to respond to incidents at each camera - WITHOUT decreasing the number of cops available in the cameraless zone. If they use cameras to replace cops it has no positive effect (unless you sell cameras).

It's just like satellite intelligence collection. We stopped hiring spies in favor of cameras that move on a known ballistic trajectory. Now we are taken by surprise by almost everything that happens in the world.

DaveApril 8, 2008 9:09 AM

The comments about Alice and Bob moving 250 feet down the road to kill each other raises a question in my mind:

Why did Bob walk down the road with Alice if he felt safer near the camera ?

There might be a difference in which people got killed with the cameras in place. Maybe, without the cameras, normal people like you and me got mugged but with the cameras, we were safe and the muggers killed each other.

Suggesting that this is "better" would be callous but the fact remains that it's not necessarily the SAME people getting killed further down the road.

Grant BugherApril 8, 2008 11:37 AM

Cameras don't stop crime because people still feel anonymous in public, even if they're on camera. What will deter crime is the democratization of cameras, which we're starting to see now that everyone's cell phone has a built-in camera. Give it another 5-10 years and not only will everyone have a camera, but they'll all have the bandwidth or capacity to record everything, all the time. The dark side to this is that it's essentially the end of privacy everywhere but inside your own home; the bright side is that it will massively impact abuse of power by police & government officials, who will know that their every action may show up on tape in a courtroom.

GritsforbreakfastApril 8, 2008 2:03 PM

Re the comment that "ubiquitous surveillance works so well in prisons"

Who says? I can think of recent jail suicides where cameras caught the incident, e.g., but guards didn't see it and the person died anyway. And in more than a few prison riots caught on tape, large numbers of inmates, including perpetrators, many times can't be identified.

Cameras at best are one tool (and a frequently fallible one) to figure out after the fact what happened, but they don't prevent crime, or as the SF and British studies show, reduce it overall.

Bruce, thanks for linking to Grits in tis post; I wrote something this a.m. reacting in part to this blog item, see:

http://gritsforbreakfast.blogspot.com/2008/04/...

best,

mooApril 8, 2008 3:54 PM

@Gritsforbreakfast: When Skorj wrote "ubiquitous surveillance works so well in prisons", he was being sarcastic.

I think the point he is actually making is that ubiquitous surveillance DOESN'T work well enough even in prisons--highly controlled environments!--to prevent inmates from (for example) being murdered by other inmates.

Outside of prisonsApril 8, 2008 4:13 PM

@moo


"ubiquitous surveillance DOESN'T work well enough even in prisons--highly controlled environments!--to prevent inmates from (for example) being murdered by other inmates."

And you wouldn't expect it to, since there is no area that is surveillance-free in which to do the crime.

But in a neighborhood, there is the surveilled area and the non-surveilled area. You can commit your crime in either area, and you don't want to get caught on video committing your crime.

Which area do you choose?


Peter E RetepApril 8, 2008 5:51 PM

There was a time when a Witness,
who could and would be sworn under oath, served as a deterrent.
Perhaps cameras should be viewed as incomplete, surrogate witnesses,
that do not necessarily:
present actively,
witness and/or record acts,
and/or perform moral/legal actions in response to acts,
and may or may not be admissable in court.

markmApril 8, 2008 7:13 PM

"Why did Bob walk down the road with Alice if he felt safer near the camera ?

There might be a difference in which people got killed with the cameras in place. Maybe, without the cameras, normal people like you and me got mugged but with the cameras, we were safe and the muggers killed each other."

Except that normal people like you and me have places to go - whether or not a camera covers the whole route.

What's the statistical significance level of the apparent change in the location of murders? I hope that one year's murders in one American city is a rather small sample, so changes in the rate or location often occur by random chance. For most other crimes, the sample size is much larger.

Finally, if criminals are aware of cameras to the point that it affects their activities, they'll target the cameras first. That's already a big problem with traffic cameras in England - many more cameras have been installed to try to catch the vandals who keep destroying the traffic cameras.

archangelApril 9, 2008 1:45 PM

As with the dam analogy, and the ubiquitous surveillance as area-denial suggestion, this is essentially about displacement, not cessation. Crime is displaced out of the surveilled vicinity to the extent that the criminal is concerned about being caught by surveillance. It is deterred to the extent that the area is the critical factor to the crime.

Theft, a highly camera-friendly activity on an open street, is deterred because it is largely a casual/opportunity-based event, and if the area of opportunity is cut off by surveillance, those opportunities cease to exist. This effectiveness is because casual theft is targeted toward observable behavior differences between marks, not toward particular victims. The intention of a thief is not murder, but profit.

Homicide is displaced, not deterred, because homicide is rarely an event of casual/opportunistic motive. The overwhelming majority of homicides are not value-related, nor simply "kill the next likely person who happens along," but have specific motive of some sort, and therefore attachment of a particular offender to a particular victim. The success of the surveillance in this instance is that it cordons off an area. Success against homicide via surveillance must be determined strategically, in terms of funneling activity into patrolled areas.

As with any security element, you must determine your operational definition of "success" with respect to the practical aspects of the threat in question. Some tools are solutions in themselves, others are elements of a multi-layered solution. Some tools, like surveillance, are both.

How Do You KnowApril 9, 2008 2:34 PM

@HAL

"Bank cameras are for documentation purposes. They don't stop the crime."

They did yesterday. Stopped 3 bank robberies. Remember those 3 that were deterred by the bank cameras yesterday in downtown metropolis, and because they were deterred, didn't in fact take place?

That's bank cameras stopping crime.

Eamon NerbonneApril 9, 2008 3:07 PM

http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/news/...

London is a far more interesting test site with far more money spent on camera's and infrastructure, and far more camera's. The police, however, are generally no more successful at solving crime in heavily CCTV'd area's than in lightly CCTV'd areas.

Even in high-profile public murder cases which end up with footage on the evening news, the camera's don't reliably lead to convictions.

Perhaps CCTV's work a little. It doesn't look like it's a very safe bet.

There's other surveillance tech which sounds more promising, such as mics+vids and automatic analysis to identify stress and violence (Unfortunately most articles online don't focus on the false negative rate, but these experimental systems do seem to actually work reasonably in that respect). Of course, it's not a silver bullet, but it looks a lot more promising than thousands of CAM's which... don't do much of anything.

How Do You KnowApril 9, 2008 3:54 PM

@Eamon Nerbonne

Installing cruddy cameras, and then not monitoring them, shouldn't be expected to work.

I would hope people would want better technology, rather than worse.

markmApril 10, 2008 8:23 AM

London is probably not a good example to evaluate the effectiveness of security cameras in the USA. English criminals know that even if someone is watching the video and sees them breaking into a car right in front of the camera, property crimes are such low priority to the English police that it's unlikely any police action will result, and in the unlikely event that they are caught, the courts won't do much more than order them not to do it again. Even if they're caught on tape beating someone severely, it's likely that their sentence will be shorter than their victim's hospital stay. So why should they worry about the cameras?

The Englishmen that are bothered by cameras are the otherwise law-abiding ones that like to drive faster than the speed limit, or drive into London without paying the congestion tax - and the traffic cameras that enforce such laws are regularly destroyed.

How Do You Know April 10, 2008 11:32 AM

@markm

"English criminals know that even if someone is watching the video and sees them breaking into a car right in front of the camera, property crimes are such low priority to the English police that it's unlikely any police action will result, and in the unlikely event that they are caught, the courts won't do much more than order them not to do it again."

Hmm. Sounds like a moral values problem. Perhaps the right of an Englishman/woman to defend his/her own property with force, legally, should have been valued sufficiently to prevent the statist elements of the English government from usurping it.

Little late now, though, eh? Well, you could always move to America. There will be a few more good years remaining here.

How Do You KnowApril 10, 2008 12:58 PM

There will be a few more good years remaining here, before such rights are fully usurped here too.

HALApril 11, 2008 1:52 PM

Cameras mean bank robbers wear masks to deal with the problem. How could cameras stop 3 bank robberies? Unmotivated thieves I guess. The marked money ensures you will get caught or at least improves the odds of getting caught. The cameras are there to watch the bank employees, typically low paid service workers, and they also happen to record an occasional robbery as well. Bank losses are more likely to result from employee mistakes than robberies. The desperate thief isn't concerned with a camera. That's why cameras are ineffective against crime, or one reason at least. They can make prosecution easier, while everything else makes it more difficult. Prosecutors seem to love the things. Bank robbers don't seem to care. It's like the stun gun. They are ineffective on some people, because nothing is foolproof. The cameras are in place to watch the police, more than the criminals. That's why mayors love them. Put cameras in the mayors office instead. People could watch ineffective people at work.

HALApril 11, 2008 2:01 PM

People are dumb and dumb people control cameras or the networks the cameras use.
The camera is only as secure as the network it is on. Can you say, manufactured evidence?
Google
inurl:"ViewerFrame?Mode="
Have fun! Make camera do tricks.

HALApril 11, 2008 2:11 PM

"The Axis 2100 camera "is used for security reasons, for surveillance, and we thought it would be really cool if you could replace the video stream." The process Pastor says is actually very simple."
http://reviews.cnet.com/...

Follow the evidence and it's wrong. Then what? Worse than ineffective.

HAL JR.April 11, 2008 2:21 PM

"Fredrik Nilsson, Axis's general manager in the U.S., stressed that the Axis 2100 was phased out three years ago and that newer cameras include more advanced security features, such as IP filtering that prevents outside access to cameras."

Make it more complex and watch dependability go to hell. The idiot mayors will order more of the things to watch the police watching the people.

carbon14May 7, 2008 9:51 AM

Totalitarian Information Access, the program that won't die, will cross reference all the video feeds with the cell phone gps's and pull up your "permanent record" that the principle at your high school always threatened you with. Choice Point has them now, satellite coverage is no longer needed, local cctv will be woven into the totalitarian surveilance network,
the UPC 714 will be tattooed with radium on the back of your neck.

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