In the words of Alun Michael, Minister of State:
"The advantages of CCTV, properly managed, speak for themselves: crime prevention, the deterrent effect of knowing that there is observation, the alerting of police at an early stage to stop dangerous situations escalating, the operational assistance to the police in sizing up a situation, the safer convictions that can be obtained - and, above all, the fact that people's confidence is renewed, which has led to many town centres being revitalized" (cited by Goold, 2004, p. 1).
Despite such overwhelming enthusiasm, critics have pointed out that there is little concrete scientific evidence that proves the positive effect of CCTV surveillance systems in reducing crime. Therefore an evaluation of the exact role of CCTV in reducing crime in town centres is called for as it will provide a comprehensive analysis of the existing situation and help ascertain the future of such systems in the fight against crime.
These systems usually consist of cameras with monitors and video recorders. The cameras may be fixed or they may literally have a roaming eye. Nowadays, cameras have sophisticated features like pan, tilt and zoom which may be used as per the need. Images may thus be captured and stored and retrieved anytime in the future. The quality of the equipment used is a chief determinant of efficiency and outcomes. It also follows that the more cameras are used the more security is afforded, as a larger area comes under scrutiny. Positioning is also important in providing maximum security. All these factors need to be taken under consideration while installing the CCTV surveillance system. The efficient working of these systems is subject to variations. Sometimes the cameras are allowed to do the job as everything will be recorded and particular incidents can be viewed based on the offences that have been perpetrated. At other times surveillance takes place round the clock and the monitored images are viewed constantly by hired staff or police operators. When incidents of crime are reported, police are able to rush to the scene as quickly as possible, and they will have access to pertinent information that will enable them to narrow down the list of suspects and give them a head start on the investigation.
In this respect, Gill and Hemming (2006) stress the importance of planning and design for purposes of maximum efficiency. The positioning of the cameras is vital, and it should be such that it allows for maximum coverage of the area that is under surveillance. Due considerations must be given to lighting as otherwise, images are likely to be blurred and grainy making positive identification extremely difficult. The manner in which the system is operated also determines outcomes. Operators must be trained to extract the best possible results from such a system and the element of human fallibility must be taken into consideration and sufficient measures must be taken to counter it.
CCTV and Crime
CCTV came to be closely associated with crime following the infamous James Bulger murder case (cited by Goold, 2004; Newburn & Hayman 2002; Coleman