The popularity of CCTV has grown markedly in the Western world in recent years. In the UK, CCTV is the single most heavily funded crime prevention measure operating outside the criminal justice system. However, doubt has been cast on the quality and independence of research evidence indicating its success. This review examines the most rigorous research from around the world to assess the effects of CCTV and the conditions under which it is most effective.
A comprehensive literature search of published and unpublished studies written in English and other languages identified 44 studies sufficiently rigorous to be included in the analysis (at a minimum, they had to include a control area that was reasonably comparable to the area covered by CCTV). Most studies were carried out in city and town centers; public housing; car parks; and on public transport.
The review shows that CCTV had a modest but significant desirable impact on crime rates. In particular, CCTV was most effective against vehicle crimes in parking lots - crime decreased by half in car parks covered by CCTV compared to those without cameras. The intervention also seemed to lead to greater reductions in crime rates in the United Kingdom, compared to other countries. CCTV worked best when it was combined with other interventions such as improved street lighting.
The reviewers conclude that CCTV is an effective crime prevention measure in public spaces, but, in contrast to its current broad application, should focus only on the specific targets against which it is shown to be most effective. They also call for more high-quality research on this intervention.
This article is based on the systematic review (link to full text review):
Welsh, BC and Farrington, DP: Effects of Closed Circuit Television Surveillance on Crime