Is video surveillance too high a price to pay to deter criminals?

| April 16, 2013

Although video surveillance has been adopted by many cities to deter crime, their effectiveness is up for debate. Many studies suggest that camera footage helps in criminal investigations, but is not effective in preventing crime. In many cases, crimes happen in areas just outside the cameras’ reach. Another hindering factor is that a camera monitoring system doesn’t come cheap.

This is why towns thinking of setting up video surveillance cameras in their communities must weigh the costs against potential advantages. Sackville, a Canadian town in New Brunswick, is one of the latest municipalities to consider adopting a monitoring system. The Sackville Tribune reports, “Mount Allison University student Emma Jackson, who recently completed a research report for town council on the proposed idea of a camera monitoring system, said many factors should be considered before a community proceeds with using surveillance systems as an alternative crime-reduction strategy.”


Municipal video surveillance can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. What do communities get in return? (Image by zigazou76.)

A sum between $250,000 to $350,000 will be needed in the first year for installation, maintenance, training, lighting, and other infrastructural upgrades. As vandalism and property damage accounted for less than $10,000 in Sackville in 2012, a Closed Circuit Television Cameras (CCTV) system might not be the most appropriate deterrence.

Jackson and Professor Michael Fox, who supervised Jackson’s research, suggested that better street lighting in some Sackville areas, more police presence, and a neighborhood watch program would be more effective in discouraging criminals.

“This decision should be made in consultation with the community,” Jackson said. “Not only will their involvement help raise awareness about the cameras (which makes the system more effective) but it will also help determine the level of public support, ensuring less backlash later on.”

Yet another town has sought public opinion on a similar issue. Woodinville city officials have asked residents for their views on using video cameras on public streets and parks to improve public safety. Citizen watchdog groups can also voice their thoughts and influence public opinion. WoodinvillePatch reports, “The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington is urging the Woodinville City Council to reject the use of video cameras on public streets.”


View this sign here.

After 9/11, Americans’ attitudes shifted more favorably towards video surveillance, valuing the feeling of safety over concerns about privacy. Regardless, statistics suggest that while minor crime rates go down with surveillance, violent crime rates do not. Still, cameras do prevent some crimes and assist authorities in investigation. So, are the benefits worth the cost? It’s a question up to each community.


Category: Surveillance, Trespassing