The purpose of this assignment is to discuss the crime prevention strategy of closed circuit television, see how it has been implemented in my local area and how successful it is at deterring crime.
It will show a brief background of CCTV and how they were implemented into my local area and why. It will show the theories behind the use of CCTV and how they aim to reduce crime. It will also show how it is criticised.
As part of preparation for this assignment I interviewed a local police officer. I had informal conversations with the local councilor and residents of Woodside estate.
I decided to focus on this project because I myself lived on the estate for a few years in the early nineties and was curious to see how the introduction of the CCTV was effecting the crime rate. I still have a couple of friends on the estate and was able to get opinions on the effect from people who have first hand experience. The CCTV was part of the regeneration plans which are a last ditch attempt at improving the estate before other measures are taken.
Over the centuries many techniques have been developed to protect persons and property against invaders or aggressors threatening to take or destroy it. More recently, manufacturing, industrial, and government organizations have hired “watchmen” for their facilities for protection. The main purpose for any closed circuit television system is to act as an extension of a person’s eyes, to be able to assess a situation and react with the proper response.
The use of Closed circuit television serves many functions and is used in both public and private settings. One of its primary objectives is the prevention of crime.
The use of closed circuit television within crime is a relatively new crime prevention strategy. It was first installed along the coastline of Bournemouth in 1985 to control the rising crime level and reassure the public. It was followed shortly after by Coventry installing CCTVs in the town centre.
There was still however resistance from local authorities to install cameras. Issues of privacy, big brother syndrome and human rights all came up. However Jamie Bulgers death and the fact that Venables and Thompson were tracked by CCTV for most of their route brought a change of attitude.
By August of 1994 there were eighty town centre CCTV schemes in operations throughout the country and the amount was still growing. To date Britain has the largest CCTV network in the world (Carter; 2001) There are at least 2.5 million cameras across the country and in the course of a typical day the average person living in the city can expect to be filmed at least eight times. But that amount of cameras are not solely for the use of crime prevention. Approximately 500 systems with forty thousand cameras are used in CCTV crime prevention ( Carter, 2001 ).
As a crime intervention, CCTV is a type of situational crime prevention (Clarke, 1995).
Situational crime prevention is one of many approaches to crime prevention. It is a combination of macro- and micro-policies to improve social and economic conditions of particular neighbourhoods, communities and social groups. Put simply, it aims to change environments where crimes can occur so as to reduce the opportunities for offenders to commit them. (University of Birmingham,2003:12).
There are differing theories that can be associated to situational crime prevention. The routine activity theory (Felson,1986) suggests that for a crime to be committed there must be a motivated offender, a suitable target and the absence of a suitable guardian. Intervening and changing one of these elements can prevent the crime.
The rational choice theory (Clarke, 1980), argues that offending behavior is ‘normal’ and is the result of the offender weighing up how he would benefit and what the consequences would be. The prevention should thus reduce the benefits and increase the consequences.
Situational crime prevention initiatives range from improved street lighting to street wardens to the way an estate is designed. However these preventions have been criticised. It has been argued that only the symptoms are being dealt with and that the actual cause of crime is not being tackled. (Carter; 2001). It has also been suggested that it has a displacement effect. Potential offenders will move from a protected area to a less protected area. Or they will change their choice of crime.
It has also been argued by many that it is an infringement of civil liberties and invasion of privacy.(Davies ;2002). This was a concern when the Home Office published ‘CCTV – looking out for you’ back in 1994, but the then prime minister dismissed them. “I have no doubt we will hear protest about a threat to civil liberties. Well I have no sympathy what so ever for so-called liberties of that kind” (John Major; 1994).
Nevertheless CCTV is here to stay. For the time being at least. The theory behind CCTV is that it aims to reduce crime by deterring the potential offender. If he is aware of the presence of a CCTV they would be more likely to not offend or go elsewhere.
Also through self-discipline. It can lead potential offenders to police their own behaviour and potential victims will be aware of the risk of crime and so alter their behaviour accordingly.
Also through detection the cameras are able to capture images of the offences which may lead to the offenders detention and inability to commit further offences.
Finally it can be linked to the routine activity theory of the presence of a capable guardian. The CCTV intends to be the capable guardian.
Within Telford there are several estates comprising of houses built within a close proximity of each other. The houses were built in the seventies for the large influx of people that were relocating to the ‘new town’. The crime rate on the majority of these estates is extremely high. Ranging from burglary to drug offences to street crimes.
One estate in particular (Woodside) has an alarmingly high rate of crime and degeneration. There are hundreds of back alleys and cut throughs and it has a set of flats where the crime rate appears to be higher than the rest of the estate.
Regeneration plans were put forward for the estate and closed circuit television was part of those plans. With the funding made available by the Home Office the council put in a bid and received funding. Closed circuit television cameras were set up within the area in late 1999.
The crime rate on the estate is one of the highest in the country. It was among the top ten worst places to live and was deteriorating at an alarming rate. Whilst there are many ‘no go’ areas on the estate, there are also a lot of pleasant areas. The council was hoping to cut the rate of crime and develop the area so it became a pleasant place for all to live.
The cameras were introduced to prevent the offending that was taking place on the streets at all times of the day. Mobile phone theft was prevalent as was car theft and assaults.
I was told by the police officer that it was an extremely unsafe place to be, especially at night. “I seriously wouldn’t venture out in the evening unless accompanied by another officer. I have been a policeman for years round here and me and my colleagues have seen it go from bad to worse. The call outs to that estate have just risen and risen. And the type of crimes being committed has gotten worse. The council took too long in doing something about it. There are a lot of decent people on the estate and they need protecting” (police officer).
The project has received a lot of support from the local residents. Many of them attended meetings to discuss the best way forward and welcomed the CCTV cameras. The local councilor was also in attendance at the meetings and supported the decision to install the cameras. “I went to several community meetings on the estate not only organised by the council, but meetings organised by the residents themselves. Despite what people think and what is reported in the local press, the residents of Woodside do care about their environment and what was happening to it. Many people have lived here for twenty years plus and are saddened to see the deterioration that is taking place. We must all work together to ensure that the situation improves. The installation of the CCTV cameras was part of a wider plan to do just that” (local councilor).
The use of the cameras on the estate was intended to prevent the crimes from occurring and also to promote a safer community. It was used alongside improving street lighting and securing the back alleys and cut throughs. They were focused on car parks, back alleys and the notorious flats. “Those flats are an awful place to live or be around. I bet most of them living there are doing something dodgy. I heard that there is at least fifty places up there that someone could score.” (Resident 1).
“The flats are a definite no-go area. I went out in Shrewsbury once and when I told this guy where I lived. He asked if it was ‘anywhere near them flats I’ve heard about’.” (Resident 2).
The intended beneficiaries of the crime prevention strategy were a combination of the community, offenders, potential offenders, and victims. The community would benefit by the area becoming a safer place to live, work and socialise. In an area with a large number of socially excluded people, one of the biggest fears is crime. They would feel safer knowing that there was a third eye watching and that detection of the perpetrators was now a greater possibility. Victims would benefit from knowing that offenders could be detected and there would be some sort of reparation.
Potential offenders and offenders who are detected may not immediately see what benefits the CCTV would bring to them. But in the long term, because they have been detected and intervention strategies put in place, they may hopefully see some sort of benefits. (This is my optimistic view).
The cost of CCTV as a crime prevention measure includes not only the initial investment, but also the ongoing maintenance and running costs. Although the government initially funds the schemes, the local authority had to match each pound awarded. And it is the local authority that has to foot the bill for maintenance. This in itself causes a major problem when the cameras are vandalised and then have to be repaired, replaced or moved to a location where they are inaccessible.
” Makes me laugh, they put all these shiny new cameras up and within a week most of them had been smashed up. What a bloody waste of money!”(Resident 1). Not all the residents had those thoughts though. Many were behind the scheme when it first started and wanted to help in any way they could.
“I think the cameras were a good idea at first. It wasn’t the council’s fault they got vandalised. We were all at the meetings and should have thought more carefully. It’s trial and error though. We didn’t get it right first time and had to re-think about where they were put. But at the end of the day, if they want to vandalise them they will find any means to do so” (resident 3).
With the repeated cost of replacing the cameras the local authorities needed to think of alternative ways to either combat the vandalism or use other strategies. They could not afford to keep ploughing money into a venture that was being sabotaged. “We have to work closely with the police and the community to put effective strategies into place to stop this willful destruction of the cameras. But I do feel that they are being vandalised because offenders realise how successful we will be at catching the culprits of crime when there is a camera in the vicinity”(local councilor).
The project is managed by the police, local council and the community as a whole. After meetings involving all three parties, the cameras were installed by the council and monitored by them. The police were called upon when their assistance was necessary and where also involved in promoting the CCTV units in local schools and youth clubs. “We don’t have the resources to enable us to police the area constantly. With the cameras they can let us know when assistance is required and t5he urgency of the situation.” (Police officer).
The community worked together with the police on the promotional visits they made. They also kept an eye on the cameras, sort of neighbour hood watch but with the CCTV.
When the CCTV was first introduced on the estate there was shown to be a significant drop in the crime rate. Over the first six months alone crime figures fell by 18%. This was very encouraging for all involved in the scheme. It seemed that things were beginning to improve on the estate. Local newspapers were to report “Woodside’s crime rate reduced. Things are on the up” (Telford Journal, 2000). But the euphoria was short lived. The cameras began to be vandalised. No sooner were they replaced than they were vandalised again. This most often was happening within the vicinity of the flats.
“they just kept smashing the cameras up. As soon as the council installed more they were smashed again. Sometimes within a couple of hours. And it was always the ones in the flats. Problem is we could keep an eye on the other cameras but people was too scared to go anywhere near them flats” (resident 2).
So whilst the crime rate was lower on the rest of the estate the rate within the area of the flats was slightly higher than original. There seemed to be a displacement effect. The CCTV blocked the opportunity for crime and therefore offenders selected a target elsewhere. In some cases this was an alternate estate. “Potential offenders are staying away from the areas with working cameras and moving on to other areas like the flats and the other estates that are around because they don’t have the CCTV yet” (police officer). So whilst the cameras prove to be successful on most areas of the estate, it was not a success for the area that most needed it.
“The whole point was to sort out them flats. Now they’re worse than ever. Waste of time and money” (resident 1).
The installation of the CCTV on the estate has been partially successful in its aims. The car parks and the back alleys have lower rates of crime. Some have argued that this is because of the introduction of the street lighting and not the cameras. They argue that the lighting can be up to four time s more effective and costs a lot less. (Nacro,2002).
But others have argued that street lighting should be used aswell as the CCTV otherwise the cameras purpose is pointless. “How can you expect CCTV to be effective if you can’t see anything in the first place?” (McLeod, 2003).
This is indeed a valid point. It would seem the cameras were most effective when used in combination with the lighting and the securing of the back alleys. It also worked well because of the commitment and support of the police, council and the community. Although the outcomes of the project were not the ones that all involved would have hoped for they do believe that it has been very worthwhile. There have not been drastic reductions to the crime rate but it is lower and that in itself is a success.
The one place that it needed to be lowered and needed drastic change has gone undeterred. It has been recognised by the majority of people involved in the estate that drastic measures need to take place to have any effect on the flats and the crime rate within and around them. Meetings within the council and community are continuously on going to discuss what shall happen with them It has been suggested that the residents of the flats should be relocated and the flats themselves torn down. This originally met with conflicting views but it seems that it will be going ahead in the very near future.
It can be argued that this will no doubtedly cause a displacement effect within the surrounding areas. Especially if the residents are relocated to other estates. But only time will tell. It would of some interest to look at the effects of this at some point in the future.