Closed circuit television camera systems in town and city centres have failed to match their anti-crime expectations, according to a report.
Professor James Ditton, of the Scottish Centre for Criminology, says the cameras have not lived up to their early promise.
After four years of monitoring the monitors, the professor, who led a Scottish Office study into CCTV, has called for an independent watchdog to oversee the use of the technology.
The centre of Glasgow alone is screened day and night by 32 cameras.
“It has been overhyped and I think that is one of the problems,” Prof Ditton told BBC Scotland. “It was allegedly going to give us these magnificent benefits of reducing crime and making the fear of crime diminish to almost nothing.
“Although it probably does have some utility for the police it does not have these wonderful great societal benefits, so we really question whether the benefits it does bring us justify photographing everybody who goes into the city everyday.”
He argued that since the Glasgow cameras were switched on in 1994 crime had fallen more sharply elsewhere than under their gaze.
He said street surveys had shown people do not feel any safer now.
Professor Ditton also said the cameras had not proved cost effective, producing just one arrest every 40 days.
“We were very surprised by the findings. We had done some previous research in Airdrie where CCTV started in Scotland and where we found there was quite a significant fall in crime after the installation of the cameras,” he said.
“To be honest, we expected to find the same in the Glasgow and we were very surprised to find it didn’t really happen.”
The report said there had been no sign of the investment, jobs or visitors it was promised the cameras would generate.
But because CCTV systems are spreading across the country and some have a wide focus, the professor is advocating the creation of an independent watchdog to monitor the way the cameras are used.
He said people may begin to question whether they want the police secretly to tape them in public.
“The cameras were so vastly overhyped as a magic bullet cure for everything when they were introduced, that we were all blinded to the fact that this was a small addition in police terms, but a rather large incursion in civil liberty terms,” said Professor Ditton.
Edinburgh city centre CCTV operator Gary Ogilvie responded to the report by insisting on the benefits of the system.
Mr Ogilvie said: “The cameras can cover large areas very quickly.
“We are identifying things which we can get the police travelling to quickly.
“In Edinburgh we have an excellent relationship with the police and we get very good response times.
“This is something the business community in Edinburgh has commented upon – that response times to incidents since CCTV went in have been much improved,” he added.
But a Scottish Executive spokesman said while the government was disappointed with the figures in the research, it still believed CCTV made a significant contribution to cutting crime.
“The Scottish Executive believes that the majority of CCTV schemes help to prevent crime and allay public concerns,” he said.
CCTV ‘fails to cut crime and anxiety’
Doubts on £170m extension plan
Gerard Seenan, Guardian, 15/7/99
Closed circuit television cameras, one of the government’s key weapons in the war against crime, neither reduce crime nor the fear of it, according to one of the most comprehensive investigations carried out on the subject.
A report prepared for the Scottish office concludes that CCTV has not succeeded in making the streets safer or in making people feel safer.
The results follow similar conclusions by researchers in Wales last week, and cast doubt on the government’s decision to spend £170m extending CCTV across Britain.
The research, carried out over a two year period in Glasgow, reveals that in the first year after CCTV was introduced crime rose in the city by 9%. The crime clear-up rate dropped by 4% over the same period.
Jason Ditton, professor of criminology at Sheffield university, who led the research, said he believed the results should open up debate on CCTV and how it was regulated.
“What we have been able to show is that CCTV didn’t reduce crime – if anything it has increased – and it didn’t reduce fear of crime. If anything there was a slight increase in anxiety.”
The researchers surveyed Glaswegians before the CCTV system was set up and found that most said they would feel safer if their city was protected by CCTV.
But after one year of operation, most said they did not feel any safer, and more people said they would avoid the city centre.
Simon Davies, director of the pressure group Privacy International, said the research should prompt a fresh look at the use of CCTV in Britain.
“The claim that people feel safer because of the technology has been clearly shown to be misleading;’ Mr Davies said.
A spokeswoman for the home office said the government had never claimed CCTV was a panacea, but it still had great faith in its usefulness.
The Scottish executive, which received the report, said it would still continue with its expansion of CCTV in Scotland.
“The effect of Closed Circuit Television on recorded crime rates and public concern about crime rates in Glasgow” by Prof. Jason Ditton is published by the Scottish Office, ISBN 07480 85416.
BBC Online, Wednesday, July 14, 1999 Published at 12:52 GMT 13:52 UK