The United Kingdom has an estimated 4.2 million cameras (one for every 14 people) and has spent about 500 million pounds on its massive camera surveillance system. Closed circuit television systems (CCTV) have often been sold to the public as systems that help prevent crime. However, numerous studies (some conducted by US and UK law enforcement agencies) have shown that CCTV systems have little effect on crime rates. In fact, studies found it is far more effective to spend limited law enforcement resources on adding more police officers to a community and improving street lighting in high crime areas than spending large amounts of money to install expensive technology.
The costs of camera surveillance systems, in terms of civil liberties, are evident. However, there is also a financial cost. I have often spoken about the fact that CCTV systems are neither effective nor cost-effective. The millions spent on camera surveillance is not spent in a vacuum. Any money spent to install, monitor and conduct upkeep on surveillance systems is money not spent on more proven crime-prevention techniques, such as increasing the number of officers on street patrol.
The UK Mail reports that, with the global economy in crisis, local councils are finally looking at the crime-prevention and cost numbers and recognizing that CCTV systems are not cost-effective.
As cash-strapped police forces and councils around the UK are forced to tighten their belts in the recession, CCTV cameras around town centres are being left unmanned as they can’t afford to pay anyone to watch out for crime as it happens.
Instead, entire networks of surveillance cameras are being effectively put on auto-pilot, with police reviewing tapes only after a reported incident.
While in some areas, members of the public and police community support officers are being drafted in fill the breach.
Now critics have called for a review of the future of CCTV surveillance which has cost taxpayers £500 million over the last decade, saying there is little point in having the cameras if no one is watching.
It is disturbing to hear that, in a bid to keep up the camera surveillance systems at a lower cost, local councils are handing surveillance duties to members of the public. The responsibility of watching the public through high-powered cameras should not be given to civilians newly trained (in video monitoring and privacy and civil liberty rights and problems, such as racial stereotyping or voyeurism) because local councils can’t afford to pay for police officers, who we believe are more experienced with privacy and civil liberty questions.
Camera surveillance systems need to be scrutinized. If they are not effective nor cost-effective, then local councils should start dismantling the surveillance systems instead of attempting to run them haphazardly with little money and few trained operators.