We are currently witnessing an explosion in the deployment of CCTV camera systems in our towns and cities. A further 20 are planned in Bradford to add to the 36 in operation; there are 10 in Keighley and 6 in Bingley with moves to add more; there are 5 intended for Shipley, which has it's own built in expansion plans.
The newer systems also mark a qualitative shift. In 1992 the first cameras in Bradford covered car parks and sub-ways. The new systems are intended to give "blanket" coverage to our public spaces: "The system will enable constant, random pan and "walks" monitoring" - that means the ability to watch someone as they walk from one end of town to the other.
And that's just the council's cameras. There are also the "traffic" cameras controlled directly by the police and the thousands of private systems that adorn practically every commercial site. Nationally the picture is the same; 95% of local authorities are implementing these systems; government funding for a further 10,000 cameras this year; over 250,000 CCTV cameras now in place with as many again planned. We are rapidly becoming a "surveillance" society.
The primary justification for the cameras is crime. Supporting the Keighley and Bingley systems in 1995, government minister for Bradford, David Curry, said "CCTV catches criminals. It spots crime, identifies law breakers and helps convict the guilty." And yet, over a year after their installation these cameras have yet to produce their first conviction. It's not surprising, as places like Keighley, Bingley and Shipley have very little crime to start with.
Consider the Keighley bid for Home Office funding:
"Keighley town centre has seen growing rates of crime against people and property particularly vandalism and theft.....crime statistics are contained in appendix A"
A letter of support from CDI Raymond Falconer adds:
"We are very hopeful that the application is successful, particularly as there is a positive trend towards an increase in Town centre burglaries of shops and business premises..."
Yet just months earlier those very same crime figures had been used to paint a totally different picture:
"Keighley is the safest place in the county. New figures from West Yorks Police show the Keighley division has lower crime figures than any other area in every major category of crime, from burglaries and car thefts to violent assaults...."It's extremely good news for the people of Keighley", says the head of Keighley CID, Chief Inspector Raymond Falconer...."In Keighley you have the least chance of your house being burgled, the least chance of your business been broken into, the least chance of your car been stolen, and the least chance of being assaulted of any area in West Yorkshire", he adds."
The cameras in Bradford are said to have resulted in "200 offenders brought to court". Unfortunately we have no idea what these offences were; robbery?, car theft? failure to buy a parking ticket? It works out at about 1 offence per camera per year. So far the cameras in and around Bradford have cost 3/4 of a million pounds - that's over £3,500 per offence. We cannot say whether that represents good value for money.
In fact it is recognised that CCTV cameras aren't much good at catching criminals. A Home Office report, which includes an evaluation of Bradford's cameras, said "Very few arrests had followed from installation and operation of CCTV". Another Home Office report said "Most arrests are made when the system is used to co-ordinate timely responses to incidents as they occur. Attempting to use recorded information to identify suspects retrospectively is more time consuming and much less effective."
If Curry's statement that "CCTV catches criminals" turns out to be wrong, surely CCTV deters crime. Certainly that is the claim:
"[In Bradford CCTV] has made massive inroads into crime"; "In some areas, car break-ins and thefts have plummeted by more than 50%"; "...crime in Bingley has fallen by almost 50% since their scheme was installed".
These local claims are reflected nationally: "Crime in Newcastle city centre was said to have fallen by 19% since the introduction of cameras. Airdrie has seen a 73% reduction..."
In fact, it is very difficult to determine how much crime is "deterred" because, obviously, crimes that haven't happened cannot be measured directly. Testing this effect requires detailed monitoring and analysis of crime statistics. In Bradford this simply hasn't happened. Indeed, to date, no such proper, detailed, independent study has happened anywhere in the country. A Home Office report notes: "Very few evaluations of town centre schemes have been carried out, and those that have only look at the effect of cameras in the short term". A 1996 South Bank University study stated: "CCTV has recently been the subject of several television documentaries and...banner headlines claiming large reductions in recorded crime. In the main, these claims are not based on any substantial research." In a report to the Scottish office on the impact of CCTV, Jason Ditton, Director of the Scottish centre for Criminology, argues that the claims of crime reduction are little more than fantasy. "All [evaluations and statistics] we have seen so far are wholly unreliable." The British Journal of Criminology went further by describing the statistics as "... post hoc shoestring efforts by the untrained and self interested practitioner".
Our attempts to get crime statistics to check out the local claims by politicians and police proved fruitless:
"It was the police who supplied the crime statistics that were used in connection with the Shipley CCTV bid as they are, as I said in the meeting, an active member of the Shipley CCTV Partnership. The only figures that I possess are those that are shown in the bid document and press cuttings with regard to the Bingley scheme." - reply from Shipley Centre Manager Bob Parker 13/1/97 to request for crime stats quoted by him at a public presentation.
"We've got a letter from you regarding crime statistics. Basically, it's not something that we provide. Those that we have are not as in depth as you've requested, they're not readily to hand..." - reply from Shipley Inspector Cawthorne, 6/2/97 to request for crime stats.
"It is difficult to provide statistics for the Keighley area for the last 5 years as there were some recent boundary changes, which makes comparisons difficult..." - reply from Keighley police 10/2/97 to request for crime stats
"The police Authority does not hold the kind of detailed information you request. I therefore spoke initially to the police who were unable to provide the statistics for the last 5 years as these are held centrally" - reply from WYPA 3/2/97 to request for crime stats
Clearly new CCTV systems will have some effect on crime, but there is evidence that any effect may wear off after a while. Then there is the problem of displacement - CCTV cameras will simply push some crime into outlying areas where there are no cameras. Measuring this effect is even more difficult, but it is widely accepted. In the campaign in support of the Shipley centre CCTV bid, police repeatedly warned of crime being displaced from Bingley following the installation there. Manchester Council's man in charge of CCTV, Cllr Gordon Conquest, put it bluntly: "No crackdown on crime does more than displace it, and that's the best we can do at the moment". The spread of cameras is set to follow any displacement. Leslie Sharp, Chief police Constable of Strathclyde, said: "There will be displacement, there is no doubt about that, but the more schemes we have the better able we will be to concentrate on where the displacement is likely to occur."
Schemes such as Newcastle have already seen CCTV deployment push from the city centre into surrounding residential areas. Commenting on the 15 CCTV cameras set up to monitor Newcastles run down West End estate, Cllr Peter Thompson, prime mover behind the system, said "What do you do with working-class men who no longer have any possibility of a job and no means to earn self respect? They have lost any sense that there are social boundaries. They are too poor, and too poorly educated, to take collective responsibility for their own problems. To some extent, I suppose, the cameras are a form of containment."
The other "problem" area to be addressed by CCTV is that of Public Order - monitoring potential social and political dissidents. The Shipley "Challenge Bid" for Home Office funding says, under the Heading "Problems - Public Order" : "Aggressive begging, busking and public drinking by itinerants is on the increase, the town is also attracting Bingley bypass protesters who are camped 2 miles from the centre. The Police view is that this situation can only worsen as this protest becomes the "Newbury of the North".
With money being spent on town and city centre regeneration, the view expressed in Febuary this year by T&A columnist Mike Priestley that "Not only do we need the right kind of shops, but the right kind of shoppers" is gaining currency. "There is ... a problem with non alcohol related disorder in the form of youths" states the Shipley bid. CCTV is being employed to help deter the "wrong" kind of visitor. The closed "Shopping Mall" model is being transferred to whole town centres. Even the appointment of "Town Centre Managers" mimics the "Shopping Centre manager". The Keighley 1995 bid noted: "The Airedale Shopping Centre which is adjacent to the bus station has its own CCTV inside their shopping area. They are keen to work with the monitors of the on-street cameras to maximise their use". Keighley Business Forums spokesman David Petyt said "It should deter the rough element from frequenting the town centre and help welcome back the law abiding citizens in the evenings." As the "rough" element and "youths" are kept out of town centres, the cameras are bound to follow them onto the estates, if only to "contain" them.
If a town has no particular crime problem, then the public's "fear of crime" can be used to justify the deployment of CCTV cameras. There is no doubt that the British public has an almost pathological fear of crime. The 1994 British Crime Survey reported: "Anxiety about being burgled, raped or robbed is both commonplace and corrosive in its consequences". Fear of crime and the actuality are almost diametrically opposed:
"Only a small proportion of all crime is violent, and most offenders are caught. Most victims of violence know their attackers. Most assaults are committed by a relative or a friend...The largest group of assault victims are young men. Yet they are the least likely to fear such a crime. The elderly, particularly women, are the least likely to be assaulted. Yet they are the people who feel least safe." - ACPO Factsheet February 1997
A 1992 Home Office survey found over 80% of people thought CCTV would make them feel safer. This led to government support, both political and financial, for the mass spread of CCTV. Yet it's difficult to see how this works in practice. Most people are unaware of the presence of CCTV cameras. Indeed, in some cities they are disguised. George Orwell recognised that, for surveillance to have a psychological impact, citizens needed constant reminders that "Big Brother is watching You". If you don't know the cameras are there, how can they make you feel safer?
There is some evidence that CCTV cameras might actually INCREASE those crimes that people most fear. The 1996 South Bank University survey suggested: "Surveillance cameras had a disproportionate effect on certain crimes. Burglaries, vandalism and vehicle crime decreased, while robberies, thefts and the possession of drugs increased."
Indeed, it is likely that the obsession with surveillance technology may feed this fear. Europe has not yet followed Britain down the mass public surveillance road. Yet the 1997 ACPO Factsheet noted: "While there is a 1 in 90 risk of assault in England and Wales in a year, the risk at 1 in 75 is greater in the rest of Europe. Yet 1 in 3 people in England and Wales feel unsafe, while only 1 in 4 do so in the rest of Europe".
In 1993, a Community Development Foundation/Crime Concern conference was held, made up of a small number of prominent persons, including Michael Jack MP, minister of state at Home Office, and Tony Blair MP, then shadow Home Secretary. They noted: "Statistically, elderly people are amongst the least vulnerable (British Crime Survey) yet fear of crime is high on their list of anxieties. Fear is increased by: the media; the promotion of security equipment; run-down areas; graffiti and poor street furniture."
There is no doubt that the publics fear of crime is a real problem. But to tackle it requires an understanding of its causes. CCTV cameras will not solve it. Indeed, it is simply being used as an excuse for their deployment.
As far as the police are concerned, neither CCTVs effects on crime, or on the fear of crime, are what matters. CCTV cameras have particular benefits to the police. A Home Office report spells it out:
"One of the main benefits of CCTV systems for the police is the aid for managing resources more effectively... The findings show that CCTV is most effective when it is used by the police as an integral part of a command and control strategy, to assist the deployment of officers."
What this means is that cop-on-the-street can be replaced by the all-seeing Eye-in-the-Sky. Is this what the public wants? 9 months after the cameras were deployed in Bingley it was announced that the number of officers based in the town would be cut from 24 to just 3! The public were appalled. However, this could yet prove to be a double edged sword for the police - improved management of resources might lead to future savings in police budgets....
CCTV is just one of the mushrooming surveillance technologies which threaten to destroy any vestiges of privacy that remain.
The technology for adding sound recording capabilities to the CCTV systems already exists, and is in use in some football grounds. But although Wolverhampton Council toyed with the idea of adding this facility, to date no-one has. The thought someone's city centre gossip might be recorded as well as filmed is believed to be unacceptable, even to an otherwise compliant public. Other enhancements, however, such as infra-red "night vision" capabilities are now standard.
Fuelled by the exponential growth of computer power, new "Image Recognition" technologies are being currently developed which will allow CCTV cameras to automatically match a face to an image database. "Your record will be just as apparent as a bar code across your forehead". Systems which can automatically read car licence plates and link them to the DVLC database are already in operation.
Plans to link CCTV systems across the country are under discussion. The linking of a number of huge computer databases, such as those of the Inland Revenue, National Insurance and the DSS, sets an ominous precedent. These and many other converging surveillance technologies mean that very soon government, the police and even some large private corporations, will have immense power at their disposal.
R. Cobb cartoon.
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