Most people view the use of security cameras and video surveillance to catch burglars, vandals and other criminals in the act. And if they can’t catch a criminal, video recordings can identify the suspects. While this is one of the most popular use cases for security camera systems, many people forget that CCTV security camera systems are also extremely useful at preventing crime.
Based on a recently reviewed paper from the Municipal Technical Advisory Service Institute for Public Service, CCTV and other security camera systems are effective at helping prevent crime. And while it’s great to catch criminals after they’ve committed a crime, it’s even better to just deter the crime.
How to Utilize Cameras To Prevent Crime
While there are no guarantees, the following tips should help in how to use security equipment to deter criminal activity instead of just recording it.
Combine lighting with your security cameras to maximize efficacy. Since a lot of crime happens at night when the criminal believes they cannot be seen, the addition of a visible camera and lighting makes it very obvious that the area is being actively watched. Needless to say, criminals do not want to commit a crime if they think they are being watched.
Motion-sensitive lighting is an effective solution for those that don’t want lighting always on. It can also save energy and be more effective at deterring trespassers, thieves and other criminals than always-on lighting.
The only exception is for violent, impulsive crimes. Since these types of crimes are often not premeditated, and product of emotional outburst, the perpetrators often ignore or miss the obvious signs that they are being watched.
Make sure that your cameras can be seen but can’t be tampered with. By making sure surveillance equipment is visible, this alerts potential criminals to the risk of committing a crime in the area. But if the cameras are in an area that it is easy to tamper with them, crafty criminals may find ways to block the camera from recording the crime.
Security cameras work best at preventing crime related to property and vehicles. Mainly, this relates to theft and vandalism prevention.
Cameras are best used in areas that do not see high foot traffic and are not wide open. High foot traffic can distract people from the fact that they are being recorded, and wide-open areas make it less likely for criminals to notice of any active security cameras.
Do Security Cameras Just Displace Criminal Activity?
One common question that has been asked over the years is whether security cameras are preventing crime overall, or do they just push the criminal behavior into other regions? While this is situationally dependent, there is some evidence that suggests security cameras can deter criminal activity in a wide-ranging fashion.
According to a 40-year meta analysis performed by the City University of New York: (1)
“Findings show that CCTV is associated with a significant and modest decrease in crime. The largest and most consistent effects of CCTV were observed in car parks. The analysis also generated evidence of significant crime reductions within other settings, particularly residential areas. CCTV schemes incorporating active monitoring generated larger effect sizes than passive systems.”
Additionally, a more recent study found that there was no increase in criminal activity that was displaced due to security cameras.(2)
“We studied an installation program in Medellín and find that the quasi-random allocation of cameras led to a decrease in crimes and arrests. With no increase in the monitoring capacity and no chance to use camera footage in prosecution, these results suggest offenders were deterred rather than incapacitated. We
test for spillovers and find no evidence of crime displacement or diffusion of benefits to surrounding locations.”
While cameras on their own cannot prevent all crimes, they can be a reliable deterrent towards criminal activity, especially relating to theft, vandalism, trespassing and sabotage. For businesses, this is an important security measure that should not be passed up.
(1) Piza, E., Welsh, B., Farrington, D. and Thomas, A. (2019). CCTV Surveillance for Crime Prevention: A 40-Year Systematic Review with Meta-Analysis. Criminology & Public Policy, 18(1): 135-159
(2) Tobon, Santiago and Mejia, Daniel and Gómez, Santiago, The Deterrent Effect of Surveillance Cameras on Crime (March 24, 2020). Documentos de trabajo, N° 20-12, 2020 , Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3560356 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3560356