BBC CCTV debate: How successful are surveillance cameras?

The age-old CCTV debate of security versus privacy is one that has rumbled on for years. BBC One’s Sunday Morning Live programme featured a segment debating CCTV. The overall topic was ‘security versus privacy’ but one very interesting side-bar to the debate was the claim from the camera’s critics that CCTV isn’t working.

Broadcaster James Whale argued that CCTV cameras are there for our safety and Brits should be proud of the surveillance which keeps us safe and protected from harm. You can see his video below.

How apt that this debate was picked up by the national broadcaster only 10 days after the British Security Industry Association published, what it claimed was, the most comprehensive report into the numbers and usage of CCTV cameras to date. It estimated there are between 4 million and 5.9 million surveillance cameras; it is equivalent to 1 camera for every 11 people and means the UK has more CCTV than anywhere else in Europe.

Whale took a stand for CCTV and said he found comfort in being caught on cameras, as he believes CCTV makes the streets safer.  If you watch the full discussion on the show, the main argument by the panel alongside Whale – compromising Reverend George Hargreaves and Pavan Dhaliwal, head of public affairs at the British Humanist Association – was that CCTV doesn’t stop crime and this is made evident by the fact you regularly see footage or pictures after the event has occurred.

But is it really possible to tell how many crimes the cameras have prevented? A camera stopping a crime or catching a criminal is not going to make the national news. And it would be a huge task for every control room across the country to track how many crimes their cameras have prevented. They quote arrest figures, but to accurately state how many crimes they have stopped is completely different.

On the rare occasions the public see footage, nine times out of ten it comes after the event; they do not see the valuable assistance that cameras provide day-in day-out in preventing and reacting to crimes. If the CCTV camera does its job and the criminal is caught, then there is no need for the footage to be released. If it pro-actively prevents a crime taking place, then there is no footage to show.

The truth is we don’t know exactly how much surveillance cameras have prevented terrorist attacks, major incidents, or even day-to-day crime, as we have not heard about them. And that is because the fact still remains that the British public rarely hears the CCTV success stories.

See the full Sunday Morning Live Episode on BBC iPlayer


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