CCTV to prevent crime?

To what extent does CCTV prevent crime and how does it effect the life in our cities?

Essay, 2008

14 Pages, Grade: 2.0




1. CCTV in the UK
1.1. What is CCTV?
1.2. The theory behind CCTV

2. Effects of CCTV
2.1. Effects on types of crime
2.2. Other effects
2.3. Data Protection Act 1998 & Human Rights Act 1998

3. CCTV project in Kingston upon Hull

4. CCTV and Urban Design

5. Discussion

6. Conclusion



The appearance of surveillance cameras in public areas in the UK (streets, parks, car parks, shopping malls etc) is obvious to everyone using these kinds of spaces. They are used to watch people’s activities and behaviour and, if necessary react towards crime or anti-social behaviour.

The UK is by far the most advanced country in Europe in regards to public surveillance research and installation. In the last decade the coverage has grown dramatically. In 1990 there were three town centre schemes with approximately 100 cameras and in 2002 there were approximately 500 schemes with around 40,000 cameras.

The impression can be made that it is used as a general tool to prevent crime and promote a safer and cleaner community. But is it as effective as it promises to be and to what extent does it effect people’s perception and activity in neighbourhoods and cities? To what extent does CCTV influences the urban designer work? What needs to be considered when implementing CCTV in existing and new developments?

This paper will help to understand the complexity of this question and issues related with its context.

One approach to the topic lays in the question: Why do people feel scared and insecure in public areas? The ‘fear of crime’ has become an important issue to consider within urban design and town planning. Being afraid of being a victim of crime can be positive if it leads to increased crime prevention, but it can also affect people's quality of life in a negative way. This fear gets projected on the appearance of places and their users which lead towards banning beggars and on-street traders. In the argument about public surveillance, it is often mentioned that constant camera monitoring is reducing this ‘fear of crime’.

1. CCTV in the UK

1.1. What is CCTV?

Over the last decades Closed Circuit Television Cameras (CCTV) has become a crucial part of crime prevention and security schemes and is to be found in both private and public areas. Most of the time installed cameras are transferring the images to a control room where the scene is live-monitored by staff. There is the possibility for the staff to communicate with the police or to get in touch with local security personnel.

By the Home Office, CCTV is described as “a situational measure that enables a locale to be kept under surveillance remotely” (Gill, M., Spriggs, A. (2005) p. 1).

There are many different types of CCTV systems to apply to different requirements and to meet varying objectives. Cameras can be installed permanently, moved around a fixed point within an area or mobile when located in vehicles.

In some cases it might just be needed to review camera footage after a certain incident to help identify offenders and use of evidence.

The history of CCTV in the UK began in the 1980s when cameras were installed on the streets to identify activists during a strike of mine workers (1984). In 1985 football stadiums and Underground stations were beginning to install CCTV for surveillance. Three members of the IRA were sentenced to murder of two soldiers because of CCTV footage in 1990.

In 1998 a major CCTV initiative was set up under the Home Office Crime Reduction Programme which made £170 million available to fund a total of 684 CCTV projects. These projects have been completed and cameras are installed in a wide range of locations such as car parks, town and city centres, and residential areas.

Since 2007 a new type of CCTV has been trailed in different locations in the UK such as Middlesbrough. Cameras are connected to speakers which allow the workers in the control room to speak directly to the people. With this new method of direct response to behaviour a new era of surveillance has begun.

1.2. The theory behind CCTV

As its main aim CCTV is trying to reduce crime and discipline people’s behaviour. Within this theory there are the following assumptions:[1]

- Deterrence. A potential offender is aware of the surveillance and assesses the benefits and risks of actions and chooses to either not offend or offend elsewhere
- Efficient deployment. Police assistance or security personnel can be called by the judgement of the staff monitoring the scene.
- Self discipline.

By potential victim. Cameras act as a reminder of the risk of crime and behaviour gets changed accordingly.

By potential offenders. The threat of potential surveillance produces self discipline[2].

- Presence of capable guardian. Based on the “Routine Activity Theory”[3] a crime needs a motivated offender, a suitable target and absence of a capable guardian. CCTV could act as such and may help reduce crime.
- Detection. Images of offences are taken by the cameras and may help to find, identify and punish offender.

The Illustration below shows that if a crime is to be committed, there needs to be a potential target or victim, an offender as well as an opportunity or absence of guardian. By removing one of these three factors, a crime can not be committed. There is a strong relationship between the environment, victim and offender, which has to be considered within the process of crime prevention.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 1: The Crime equation.[4]


[1] Based on material of Armitage, R. (2002).

[2] Described as Bentham`s Panopticon within Foucault, M. (1991).

[3] Cohen and Felson (1979)

[4] Source: British Waterways (2000).

Excerpt out of 14 pages


CCTV to prevent crime?
To what extent does CCTV prevent crime and how does it effect the life in our cities?
University of Münster
Experiencing the city
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
413 KB
CCTV, Crime, Crime prevention, Crime measure, Ueberwachungskamera, Kriminalitaet
Quote paper
Susanne Grolle (Author), 2008, CCTV to prevent crime?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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