London's Cameras Don't Reduce Crime

News here and here:

Massive investment in CCTV cameras to prevent crime in the UK has failed to have a significant impact, despite billions of pounds spent on the new technology, a senior police officer piloting a new database has warned. Only 3% of street robberies in London were solved using CCTV images, despite the fact that Britain has more security cameras than any other country in Europe.


Use of CCTV images for court evidence has so far been very poor, according to Detective Chief Inspector Mick Neville, the officer in charge of the Metropolitan police unit. “CCTV was originally seen as a preventative measure,” Neville told the Security Document World Conference in London. “Billions of pounds has been spent on kit, but no thought has gone into how the police are going to use the images and how they will be used in court. It’s been an utter fiasco: only 3% of crimes were solved by CCTV. There’s no fear of CCTV. Why don’t people fear it? [They think] the cameras are not working.”

This is, of course is absolutely no surprise.

Posted on May 7, 2008 at 6:53 AM36 Comments


Clive Robinson May 7, 2008 7:14 AM

As I have said all along (check back blog posts adnausium 8)

CCTV works on high value targets where a response in a relativly short period is very much gaurenteed.

CCTV on street corner will be quickly out evolved by criminals.

The same for even covert cammeras unless they are moved frequently.

Unless the operators form an adaptive policy with prompt response CCTV will always end up a failier.

The only way it continues to work is against the “terminaly stupid” and those who for some reason (drunkness) do not take even modest precautions.

So why do we have something like one public cammera for every 14 people in a nation of 60million…

You go figure unless you make the assumption it is a very very expensive publicity campaign by polititions trying to improve their “public safety” credability ratings…

bob May 7, 2008 7:16 AM

They are going to have to come up with some manhattan-project sized leaps in productivity from these things before they show a return on investment (ie before crime goes down by more than it would have had they spent the same money on plain old street cops).

But I love the idea of them putting the pictures on the internet for people to identify. Now I will be trolling them to see if I can find someone they are looking for who I looks like my ex-wife.

D0R May 7, 2008 7:35 AM

I was recently in London and I was amazed at the number of CCTVs cameras — not only in metro and train stations and other public premises, but also in many restaurants and shops. On the other hand, I was delighted by the fact that streets were reasonably clean and completely graffiti-free. Probably I am wrong, but as a first thought I correlated the two facts.

winston smith May 7, 2008 8:15 AM

there should be cctv in every television set, reporting back to the ministry. reduce crime, thoughtcrime especially

FP May 7, 2008 8:43 AM

I’m sure that the government will come to the obvious conclusion that we need more cameras. In High-Definition, of course.

Beta May 7, 2008 8:51 AM

Here are a few telling quotes from near the end of one article.

‘He said that there were discussions with biometric companies “on a regular basis… Sometimes when they put their [equipment] in operational practice, it’s not as wonderful as they said it would be…” ‘
(I am shocked! Shocked!)

‘Asked about the development of a CCTV database, the office of the UK’s information commissioner, Richard Thomas, said: “CCTV can play an important role in helping to prevent and detect crime. However we would expect adequate safeguards to be put in place to ensure the images are only used for crime detection purposes, stored securely and that access to images is restricted to authorised individuals. We would have concerns if CCTV images of individuals going about their daily lives were retained as part of the initiative.” ‘
(If this is really the opinion of the commissioner, it’s astoundingly naive. Such safeguards will not exist unless they’re put in at the beginning and defended savagely, regardless of politics.)

‘The charity Victim’s Voice, which supports relatives of those who have been murdered, said it supported more effective use of CCTV systems. “Our view is that anything that helps get criminals off the street and prevents crime is good,” ‘
(There you have it. A police state would be good, if it reduced crime.)

Carlo Graziani May 7, 2008 8:55 AM

That’s as may be, but this is the wrong reason to oppose CCTV, and will certainly backfire as the datamining software gets better. Ubiquitous CCTV will almost certainly start solving crimes within the next decade. Will it then be a good idea?

No. It won’t be a good idea. Living in a high-surveillance society is too high a cost for the benefit of reducing casual crime rates. That’s the drum we should be beating.

Sparky May 7, 2008 9:32 AM

Damn, that really is sick! Little girl with daddy or uncle in big bus with lots of big strange scary people. I’d even expect the man to hold her hand when they’re walking through a busy street.

But really, who could be surprised… Cameras are only slightly useful if there is somebody active watching the feed, which is impossible with that many cameras. Even then, a camera overseeing an area that is suppost to be empty could be usefull, because it is easy to spot someone in the image, but cameras watching busy streets, with many people moving and going about there business?

I certainly oppose a police state, and am glad I don’t live in the UK, but a question did just occur to me: if these cameras are so bad at detecting crime and collecting evidence, they are equally ineffective at invading privacy.

TheDoctor May 7, 2008 9:47 AM

@Sparky: No, for invading privacy they are well suited.

Because that bored guy in front of the screen can easily hunt for big b**bies, in fact he might miss a drugdealer or two because this takes all of his concentration.

Joke aside, the oppressing effect on normal people is still there.

thiefhunter May 7, 2008 9:54 AM

It’s not so much the cameras that don’t work, as the laws and political will to stop the problem. The cameras are just a money sink. Even with photo evidence, street thieves are rarely convicted. As one who researches worldwide street theft, I have had many a frustrating conversation with police and prosecutors. One went like this (after I had just filmed a pickpocket steal from a woman):

“Why do you protect them?” I asked the cop. “They’ve been here for years!”

“It’s not possible to arrest them,” the officer said. “They only took 200 euros. It’s not enough. They must take 300.”

“But they’ve been doing this for years! It’s ruining your city’s reputation.”

“Yes. I know all of them. Their names, their addresses.”

The conversation circled unsatisfactorily, revealing firewalls between politicians, law enforcement, journalists, tourist bureau, and the unfortunate tourists. We, like the police, threw up our hands.

In the beginning of my research, I proudly brought video to tourist police stations, thinking it would be appreciated. But that was rarely the case. The cops pretty much know who’s doing what, and as the police officer above said, they go on doing it for years, as if they own the place. Laws require police to see the crime happen. Laws require police to release those under-age, and mothers with children. The thieves know all the rules and play the game. They’re organized, too. They have bail bondsmen and lawyers on retainer.

I wrote here in relation to Barcelona, but these facts are largely universal. “Tax and immigration issues, packed prisons, overextended judicial systems, law enforcement budget constraints, high unemployment, all contribute to the persistence of street crime. But when the courts give a pickpocket a monetary fine to pay, how do they expect him to obtain the funds?”

Considering that pickpockets have been stealing since loincloths got pockets, I don’t think the problem will go away, with cameras or without. The solution is in training the population to look after themselves. This is what I try to do at Thiefhunters in Paradise.

thiefhunter May 7, 2008 10:05 AM

Oh, one more thing.
@Sparky: “Cameras are only slightly useful if there is somebody active watching the feed, which is impossible with that many cameras.”

Not quite. We have thousands of cameras in Las Vegas (where I live), and they’re useful after the fact. Victim says when he last had his property and where he was. The footage is backed up and he is located, then tracked, from camera to camera, until the encounter with the thief is found. In Las Vegas, much of the public space covered by cameras. (Unfortunately, thieves know the safe spots.)

And: I saw the video surveillance room in the Johannesburg CBD, where operators watched banks of state-of-the-art screens, controlling pan and zoom cameras. It can work.

Mike May 7, 2008 11:47 AM

While I opposed CCTV for a bunch of happy logical rational reasons, the “3% of crimes solved” statistic in no way invalidates the pro-CCTV crowd’s point of view.

The missing piece of information is crime rates, and whether these drop in CCTV surveilled areas as opposed to unwatched areas. If, as I suspect is the case, there is little difference in rate, then the 3% statistic is a little more interesting.

Does anyone know of a good study on crime rates and CCTV? I’d be very interested to read up!

Heads In The Sand May 7, 2008 11:53 AM

Wow. Did Bruce even read past the headlines? The first article itself says the cameras are working.

“According to the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS), CCTV has not failed. They say it has helped reduce crime in the capital.”

How shocking that when the police say, “Yeah, well, we don’t want to look at the footage. And when we don’t look at the footage, we find that we don’t see any crimes on the footage.”

“more intelligent use of the technology are important”

Amen. If you don’t use something properly, of course it doesn’t work.

Is there such a dearth of “studies” that claim that surveillance camers don’t work that the anti-camera crowd is reduced to quoting articles which claim that the cameras do actually work? Amazing.

Jason May 7, 2008 12:19 PM

Because that bored guy in front of the screen can easily hunt for big b**bies, in fact he might miss a drugdealer or two because this takes all of his concentration.

I had a massive Freudian slip when I read your comment as “takes all of his contraception” instead of “takes all of his concentration.”

I had to do a double-take on that one.

John Campbell May 7, 2008 12:20 PM

All of those cameras are there so that Torchwood can watch for a specific blue police box…

Z. Schtoonk May 7, 2008 12:30 PM

It is interesting to know whether blanketing the world with CCTV reduces crime, but maybe that’s not really the right question. So far the statistics say this approach isn’t working, but supposing that it did – are we willing to subject ourselves and our loved ones to continuous monitoring and recording by and for whatever government we end up with, forever, in order to make it easier for said government to punish whoever it catches doing something it forbids? Will this improve our lives? Will it make our world a better place to live?

Mr. E May 7, 2008 1:13 PM

I’m in the states and often wondered about public access to the cameras here. After all, if we’re paying for them, shouldn’t I be able to open up a web browser and take a peek through them?

Of course I’m talking about cameras that are in public places, like the ones perched atop the traffic lights and the ones on the side to catch red light runners, which we all know work sooooo well.

Davi Ottenheimer May 7, 2008 5:29 PM

Oh, sure, blame the technology.

This reminds me of GM in the 1980s who found that massive investment in automation technology failed. It was a fiasco as GM plants with the robots needed thousands more staff than their competitors. More importantly, however, was that this was the opposite of Toyota’s results with technology during the same period.

Robots now are a success story for GM (after partnering with and modeling itself after Toyota).

The lesson was not to expect quality to originate from a robot. Similarly, reduction of crime will not originate from cameras, but when technology is managed properly….

Mark May 7, 2008 5:31 PM

Bruce, were you aware that at least two Chief Constables in the UK (equiv of top cop for a US state) have expressed concerns about the proliferation of CCTV cameras in the UK?

“A senior police officer has said he fears the spread of CCTV cameras is leading to ‘an Orwellian situation’. Deputy chief constable of Hampshire Ian Readhead said Britain could become a surveillance society with cameras on every street corner.”
Police chief’s ‘Orwellian’ fears
CCTV creating ‘Orwellian’ society'Orwellian'-society.html

derf May 8, 2008 9:50 AM

The issue today is that the cameras just record. The police have to manually review the footage to find what they’re looking for, then prove the image is what they say it is in court. Once computers can automagically determine a crime was committed, dispatch a drone, and have the drone shoot the perpetrator, only then will crime be reduced. We’ll just bypass Judge Dredd and go straight to Skynet.

Fred May 10, 2008 3:05 AM

Security cameras are similar to gun control: both have negligible success targeting criminals. But, just try to get useless laws repealed or stop the spending on ineffective camera systems, and the bureaucracy reacts with more. It takes a truly intelligent government to admit a mistake and try something that works.

Clive Robinson May 10, 2008 5:52 AM

@ Mike,

It is not just,

“The missing piece of information is crime rates…”

The real question is “proportinality”.

For instance if I put a machine gun nest in you town square and man it 24×7 with persons who will shot anything and everything that moves then you would expect “street crime” in the fire zone to be close to zero from that point onwards.

But what of the cost of doing it not just the direct cost for the nest and it’s man power. What about the indirect cost of loss of utility of your town square and the increase in trafic and inconveniance in adjacent areas?

Are the two costs proportianate with the reduction in street crime in the fire zone?

Further do people seriously believe that the criminals will become law abiding citizens or that they will just migrate their illegal activities to some place where there is not a machine gun nest?

The few “long term independent follow up” studies carried out on public place CCTV instalations that I have seen have all show that,

1) Initialy “planed” crime (pick pocket / mugging) drops in the area, unplaned (drunken behaviour etc) tends to remain the same.

2) That pland crime rises in adjacent areas in proportion to the drop.

3) After a relatively short period the pland crime rate starts to rise again in the CCTV covered area, unless rapid response techneiques are deployed.

4) unless the CCTV covered area is of very high value the operation costs soon out weigh the benifits.

5) comparison with other measures such as closing “bolt holes”. better street lighting and regular police foot patrols show that CCTV is less effective in both costs and longterm results.

Which brings me onto the real problem with the CCTV studies,

@ Heads in The Sand,

“Is there such a dearth in studies”

Short term no longterm yes, and the short term studies tend to be sponsored by those with vested interests the longterm not.

This is a very real problem, as well as,

Short term studies tend to only study the effects in the covered area almost immediatly after the systems are installed and operational and there is a willingness by the local police force to rapid respond the area. They also tend to highlight the “successes” (planed crime) not the others.

The very few independent long term studies tend to cover not just the CCTV covered area but quite a widespread uncovered area around it. Further these studies carry on long after the initial “good will” by authorities have worn off and the preasures of rising crime in adjacent areas refocus the police efforts away from the CCTV covered area.

What we need is more independent longterm wide area studies, unfortunatly these tend to be expensive to conduct and there are very very few sources of funding available for them.

As has been observed,

“Lying with statistics is only moderatly more difficult than lying without them”,

“There are lies, dam lies and statistics”,

“The truth is rarely palitable”


“Quick fixes invariably fail with time”.

Sameet May 12, 2008 2:10 AM

If you want to make a music video, but can not afford any filming equipment, what do you do? A band from Manchester hit upon an ingenious idea.

Unable to afford a proper camera crew and equipment, The Get Out Clause, an unsigned band from the city, decided to make use of the cameras seen all over British streets.

With an estimated 13 million CCTV cameras in Britain, suitable locations were not hard to come by.

They set up their equipment, drum kit and all, in eighty locations around Manchester – including on a bus – and proceeded to play to the cameras.

Afterwards they wrote to the companies or organisations involved and asked for the footage under the Freedom of Information Act.

"We wanted to produce something that looked good and that wasn't too expensive to do," guitarist Tony Churnside told Sky News.

"We hit upon the idea of going into Manchester and setting up in front of cameras we knew would be filming and then requesting that footage under the Freedom Of Information act."

Only 25% of the organizations complied with their requests, but the footage was still enough to make a music video.

What a great way to use the billions of dollars wasted so far.

SteveJ May 13, 2008 11:46 AM

I’ve just heard on the BBC’s “More or Less” program that the 3% figure is very misleading.

The police don’t keep statistics on what proportion of crimes are solved using CCTV.

The 3% figure is from a review of about 270 convictions, in which 3% of them were brought solely on the basis of CCTV evidence.

I don’t know exactly what “solely” means here, since I’m not sure whether anyone really brings a case in which the prosecution literally says “we only have one bit of evidence – here it is”. So someone has probably made a judgement is to which cases “count” as being prosecuted using CCTV alone. But I imagine that if the police see a burglar on CCTV, go round his house and catch him with stolen goods, then those goods will be entered in evidence. Whether this would be counted towards the 3% I do not know.

But the main point is that the review wasn’t looking at the thing that the headlines are about. Nobody knows how many of the other cases in that study were solved in part using CCTV footage rather than solely. We cannot conclude that in 97% of cases CCTV did no good.

The study was also quite small by comparison with other crime statistics, since recorded crime statistics often cover all prosecutions rather than just a sample.

SteveJ May 13, 2008 11:56 AM

The program commented on this too, from the same BBC article:

“One study suggests there may be more than 4.2 million CCTV cameras in the UK”

The study cited was one conducted on Putney high street. I kid you not – someone studied one street and extrapolated to the entire country, and that’s good enough for the article to say “one study suggests”. I suspect I could do that study on my street (which is residential), and come up with a figure of 0 for the country.

I’m more interested in what other studies might say, but for the purpose of an article covering a claim that CCTV doesn’t work, I’m guessing that the journalist picked the one that gave the biggest number. Just as the lowest possible figure was chosen for the number of crimes solved “by CCTV” (i.e. by CCTV alone).

Brian Greer May 15, 2008 1:19 PM

The efficiency of the CCTV system is hard to measure without knowing exactly what it is intended to do. I don’t believe it is there just to fight crime, at least not the kind of crime that hurts individuals. It is there to protect the state and ultimately help them control the “criminal activity” that would serve to undermine their authority.

Gustav May 26, 2009 1:55 AM

Why don’t you brits install cameras everywhere in your homes and then a RFID-chip up your asses? It will evidently have no impact on crime rates and big brother is constantly watching you, but hey, it will make you FEEL safer, right?

Where is western democracy going, I wonder?

The Swedish Pirate Party May 26, 2009 2:05 AM

“Following the 9/11 event in the US, Europe has allowed itself to be swept along in a panic reaction to try to end all evil by increasing the level of surveillance and control over the entire population. We Europeans should know better. It is not twenty years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, and there are plenty of other horrific examples of surveillance-gone-wrong in Europe’s modern history.

The arguments for each step on the road to the surveillance state may sound ever so convincing. But we Europeans know from experience where that road leads, and it is not somewhere we want to go.

We must pull the emergency brake on the runaway train towards a society we do not want. Terrorists may attack the open society, but only governments can abolish it. The Pirate Party wants to prevent that from happening.”

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