CCTV and the Offender Perspective


By Professor Martin Gill.

CCTV is now common place and there is now a wealth of research available from around the world that has considered its effectiveness.

Overall the results point in both ways, on the one hand suggesting that there are circumstances where there is room for optimism about CCTV (Welsh and Farrington, 2009), and on the other where the results are generally negative and suggest CCTV does not work or not as well as the alternatives (Ditton, 2000). Some studies report mixed results (Gill and Spriggs, 2005).

The fact of the matter is that there are a number of key factors or variables that are crucial to determining whether CCTV works, this includes the type of technology used, the skill with which it is specified installed and managed, the quality of the images and the skills and training of the operators, the effectiveness of the link between the operators and the responders; the nature of the environment into which it is introduced, the types of and quality of measures that are also located there, and the ability of those who have to take action on what is seen to do so skilfully and with sufficient speed. There are no doubt many more requirements of and for an effective CCTV scheme.

Similarly, it is simplistic in the extreme to talk about CCTV in terms of whether it ‘works’. The key is to understand what is meant by ‘works’. Sometimes there is a stated general aim of reducing crime without specifying which crimes and in what circumstances. Publically funded CCTV schemes are more likely to be effective against street offences than those that take place in business or at home.

In any event, there are lots of aims of CCTV, be that to make people feel safer (although it is much better to state which people in what circumstances), give people more confidence to approach difficult or potentially conflict situations (because they know they are being watched), and so on.

An important element of CCTV is knowing what offenders think. After all, understanding how they perceive the threat, and crucially how they manage it in different crime scenarios, is vital. In the early part of the decade myself and a colleague interviewed 77 offenders in prison about their attitudes to CCTV. Here I want to remind readers of the headline findings and then briefly discuss some of the implications (Gill and Loveday, 2003).

None of the 19 street robbers said that CCTV was a threat, principally for two reasons One was that they could wear a disguise. The second was that the offence takes place quickly, and as they get away from the scene speedily, there is little possibility they would be caught in the act, even if there was someone watching a camera pointing at the incident. The risk of being identified later was considered slight.

Of the 22 who discussed burglaries only 3 believed they had committed such offences in areas covered by CCTV.

There may have been some avoidance behaviour here, but often burglaries whether that be of dwelling or commercial premises can be committed without risk of being under the gaze of CCTV. And of course, few burglaries are discovered at the point they take place.

Nevertheless 4 of the 22 offenders noted that they had previously been identified committing offences (2 for robbery, 1 for shoplifting and 1 for burglary).

The latter had not expected CCTV to be monitored although he claimed that he was unlucky because the police were conducting special  urveillance in the area at the time.

We interviewed 16 credit card fraudsters who conducted offences face to face. None expressed concern about CCTV, principally because they were behaving like other shoppers in conducting a card transaction, so they felt they were unlikely to raise the suspicions of CCTV operators.

The risk of being identified afterwards was reduced by ensuring that anyone watching would not have clear view of the face, and by relying on the assumption that images are not that good and/or they are not kept for long.

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