The Rise of the Invasive Security Camera – Do They Really Stop Crimes?

The surveillance camera has become particularly controversial in terms of its usefulness, practicality and success rate. While skeptics warn against these devices’ violation of civil liberties and individual privacy, law enforcement officials counter that real-time video footage can further investigative efforts and apprehend perpetrators (Urban Institute).

Close up silhouette of Security CCTV camera with sunset background

I can totally understand wanting to utilize every tool to catch criminals, and even to deter crimes. But, not when it’s in violation of our individual privacy and civil liberty! (Note: there is a difference between the government putting it’s citizenry under surveillance, and a business or individual putting their property under the eye of security cameras!)

Even if you set aside the privacy right issue, we must question just how effective are security cameras? How many crimes do they actually deter or solve? Is it worth a localities’ budget (aka, the citizen’s tax dollars), to install, maintain and monitor the cameras?

The Argument For Security Cameras:

According to a study conducted by the Urban Institute, closed-circuit TV (CCTV) cameras installed throughout Washington DC, Baltimore and Chicago mitigated monthly crime rates and proved economical as well (Homeland Security News Wire). For example, Chicago earned a $4 return on every dollar allocated toward this initiative, and Baltimore earned a $.50 return (Urban Institute).

These cities’ favorable outcomes with camera usage stem from the following factors: the devices were equipped for 24-hour surveillance, they were monitored by specially trained teams alongside additional police technology, and they were situated in locations that would not compromise the citizens’ privacy (as much). Overall, this security measure yielded social benefits like diminished felonies, justice for victims and reduced legal system costs (Homeland Security News Wire).

Based on the success observed in these urban areas, CCTV proponents suggest that mounting cameras around your own property can decrease the risk of vandalism, trespassing, shoplifting, armed robbery, assault or other concerns. They point out how both internal and external systems will continuously scan the perimeter and record suspicious activity for police investigations. Finally, they allege that, even offenders who aren’t deterred by a camera, are more likely to be arrested and found guilty when this footage is obtained (Business KnowHow).

The Argument Against Security Cameras:

First, the most important – our Constitution, specifically the 4th Amendment:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Research compiled by the University of Southern California indicated that installing CCTV cameras throughout Los Angeles produced “no overall effect” on curbing crime. Instead, the funds required to maintain this surveillance caused city officials to slash the budget for prison operations, forensic tests, law enforcement patrols and judicial efforts (The Chicago Tribune).

Wow, just wow. Not only were they unable to stop additional crimes, they had to reduce law enforcement patrols and justice in the courtroom for criminals!

While Baltimore, Washington DC and Chicago, experienced a decline in delinquencies, the University of California Berkeley found that security cameras around San Francisco merely displaced illegal activity to areas outside the machinery’s scope (Surveillance Studies Centre). This implies that, rather than being deterred, criminals have become more strategic about which locations they target. It’s not rocket science, folks – if your base of operations for illegal drug sales is suddenly being caught on secure video camera, just move to a new place and continue business as usual.

Therefore, CCTV critics protest that established safety measures–like beat policing, neighborhood watches, alarm systems and self-defense–outperform these potentially fallible gadgets. They discourage viewing technology as a substitute for manpowered crime prevention (Surveillance Studies Centre

Did you catch that? “established safety measures…life self-defense” – that’s the answer. Nothing can prevent crime better than an armed citizenry. Although, I do support preventative measure like bulletproof glass or flashfog security.

We can give our law enforcement every tool in the box to stop and prevent crime, but in the end the police-to-criminal ratio is way too low to ever expect the police to prevent crime. That’s not their job, and it’s never going to happen – we have to take responsibility for our own personal safety, and the preservation of our property!

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