Cameras or Cops?

The million-plus surveillance cameras that monitor London’s citizens haven’t stopped much crime, the BBC reports. According to a police report, just one crime was solved by every 1,000 cameras, creating “a huge intrusion on privacy, yet … little or no improvement in security.” Similarly in the U.S., writes Peter Moskos, the “cornerstone of urban policing,” cops patrolling in cars, “has no effect on crime rates, victimization, or public satisfaction.” [%comments]


I wonder if there's a way to gauge if Londoners feel more secure as a result of all the cameras, even if it doesn't actually improve public safety. Couldn't those small number of crimes solved with CCTV cameras create anecdotal evidence that the cameras are doing more than they actually are?


Are they measuring the number of crimes that were never even attempted because of the camera's presence?

Or are they ONLY considering the number of crimes committed that were solved by use of the camera?

What if the real numbers are this:
with the cameras, 1000 crimes committed, 1 solved.
without the cameras: 2000 crimes committed, 0 solved.

So did the cameras solve just 1 crime, or reduce 1000 crimes?


Totalitarianism rarely is an effective mean to limit crimes.


I would choose camera because a camera has never tasered a pregnant lady...

Joe D

Doesn't anyone watch MI-5? See how many bad guys they catch with the cameras that you never, ever hear about?


Eric M. Jones

I surmise that the "security" police get a thousand times more data than they can ever examine or use. So much secret data, radar tapes, black boxes, surveillance videos, satellite reconnaissance, international phone taps, etc., is merely a showpiece after the fact. Perhaps the presence of the cameras is a deterence.

The NSA apparently listen to nearly everything and has "marginally conscious" computers to sort it all out. Still the government blows it. (one might argue that they "get" more than they "miss", but then you would have to explain how they missed the fall of the USSR...?)

I think court-ordered targeted surveillance can be justified, but just spying on everyone, hoping you'll catch something, is a waste of time, undermines the society, and in the US at least, is illegal.


I am intrigued when people are bothered by cameras but not by officers on the street to the same degree.

-Bananen: would it be totalitarianism for there to be a cop in stead of a camera? If so, then exactly how many cops in what size area is totalitarianism vs simple policing?

Cameras are simply surrogates for feet on the street that don't call in sick or go on strike. A cop can make a mental note of what occurs, write it down, and file it away. A camera makes a picture vs a written note. A cop could be a trained artist and record people walking by, or the state could have 100 cops on the street corner recording a drawing of very person walking by. A camera is simply a cheaper more expedient manner to do some of what a cop on the street could do.

I fail to understand the objection to these cameras.


I'm not a fan of cameras everywhere, but in fairness, Gary is right. Solving crime and stopping crime are not the same thing.

"Totalitarianism rarely is an effective mean to limit crimes"

Not sure where you're getting your data; totalitarianism is an extremely effective way to stop crime (other than by the totalitarians themselves). I'd rather see a heavily armed population with very liberal castle doctrine laws, but totalitarianism works.


How can me measure the crimes which are not committed with the fear that there is a camera which is watching our action ....


I'm with Micah and Gary, have crime rates in areas where the cameras are located decreased by any appreciable amount?


I had a friend who was accused of assaulting a police officer and being drunk and disorderly. (Not in London, but in the UK). The camera evidence was used that he plainly hadn't assaulted anyone, and whilst drunk wasn't particularly disorderly.

That doesn't count as a crime solved, but it shows some other uses of camera.


This has been a fascination of mine - Car patrols are such a corner stone of american policing, but I've seen alternatives that probably would work just as well.

I'm particularly curious to see how the Japanese Koban* method might work, where you have one or two officers that hang out at a neighborhood police box all day; this means that there is always local police presence, and that you always know where to find them. This might also solve a major issue with the current US policing method where the police are often seen as outsiders that the community that would need them most doesn't trust.

* to anticipate concerns, yes, the Japanese may not have as many issues with crime now (though they are on the rise), but this koban system was first developed during the feudal era when things were significantly less rosy.


"a huge intrusion on privacy"

I always bristle when I see this line used in discussions of publicly mounted cameras. Speed cameras, traffic light cameras, ATM cameras, security cameras at banks, etc. When you say those things are an "intrusion" on your privacy, do you mean to imply that leaving your home and walking down the street in full view of everyone constitutes "privacy"? Should we avert our eyes when we see each other walking down the high street?

Or does it only constitute an "intrusion" when it's the government that is doing it? Even if the "government" in this case is the police force that you pay to watch out for you when you're out wandering the public streets?

Really, if you value your privacy so VERY much, why not stay home with the curtains drawn?

Besides, Ross (#4) is right...

Mark S

Anon @ 11 - well, if the cop had been convicted of perjury (hahaha), that would be a crime solved by CCTV.

Of course, if that sort of thing actually started happening, the cameras would be uninstalled rather rapidly.


I did some searches and found that at least in the short term, cameras DO reduce crime rates in towns where they are installed:

You have to remember the motivations of the criminal. The penalty of committing a crime is ZERO when you don't get caught. If you think you aren't going to get caught, then you assume that the penalty for committing the crime is zero. Most criminals know that MOST of the time, they will get away with it. Most criminals get away with several crimes before they are caught and convicted of one.

I'm not a big fan of cameras installed everywhere either, but if they increase the PERCEPTION that you will be caught, then you will reduce crime.


Gee Tad, you enjoy being spied on that much do you?

Here's an experiment, we take all the film footage of you taken by these cameras and broadcast it on TV 24/7. How could you object, it's all quite public isn't it.

What good would staying home do, they just monitor your calls and Internet use.


People will face tradeoffs, it's inevitable. Officers face a huge decision, or they surround the streets by electronic spies or flood them by cops. If they do both the cost of doing so will be massive. Either ways if they decide to surround the streets by cameras they're a missing out on special skills cops could do and a camera couldn't. For instance a cop prevents murders while cameras only identify the murder. Then there's the intimidation of a cop that arouses criminals to act safe therefore aborting whatever criminal act criminals will do. In contrast if there is cameras instead the criminals won't see them and commit the crime or if they do see them is worse, they just cover their faces and the deal is done. Although a camera reduces costs it's inefficient. Like in the UK they won't solve lots of cases, which is the whole purpose of security. It's even possible that some citizens will be questioning the government weather it's becoming totalitarian. The truth is that human capital in this case is more efficient than physical capital. There's a whole list of skills that a cop has that a camera doesn't. It's all a matter of making the correct decision that satisfies the people by efficiency. These statistics have proven that cameras are inefficient. In fact they could also incentive criminals to commit criminal acts since the system has failed to prevent them. The solution is to exploit the resources of human capital by increasing the number of cops and pray to God it works...



The reason for cameras is that there are not sufficient policemen to watch everywhere at all times. But are they worth it? Is the security, well being, and maybe even life of a person, worth it for people to spend a few more dollar on tax? I believe that it is. Even if it means to save one single person, even if it is economically inefficient as a waste of resources. Imagine if that person was your spouse, family member, or a close relative, you would thank the cameras for saving that person! Or even if you do not know that person, maybe that person would be key in conducting research and achieving the cure of cancer!

Security is important, by as many policemen as possible, with the aids of cameras, as far as our budget supports it, our depending on how much people value their and others' safety.


One more thing. just from my personal observations, I've found that police patrols, whether on foot or car, reduce the severity of crimes. Perps, in a rush, often give up on their intended crime (rape, murder, robbery), and end up being caught merely assaulting the victim.


TsaiCMS, let's think about this for a minute. You say "Is the security, well being, and maybe even life of a person, worth it for people to spend a few more dollar on tax? I believe that it is. Even if it means to save one single person, even if it is economically inefficient as a waste of resources. "

This is a tired and utterly frustrating argument I hear all too often. Economics need to be taken into account. Otherwise we'd take all cars off the road. Although economically inefficient, it would save THOUSANDS of lives a year, so by your logic, it would be worth it, a thousand times over.

As much as we don't like it, economics need to be taken into consideration. Would we be better served spending the tax dollars on highspeed rail, preventing automobile accidents and saving lives? What about lowering the taxes, effectively lowering the unemployment rate, and getting more families out of poverty? Just because this program CAN save lives, doesn't mean it's in the public's best interest.

Simply saying a program is worth it, no matter the cost, if it can save even one life is so short-sighted. I've been hearing it more and more in general conversation. Which brings me to the health-care debate.......