Does CCTV make you feel safer?

A new study from the University of Hertfordshire appears to undermine one of the key justifications for Britain’s network of 4.2 million surveillance cameras: that they provide reassurance to the public.

The study also finds that people are no more fearful of crossing a street with a young male skinhead in it than they are with a smartly dressed woman present, unless, a CCTV camera is overhead.

120 participants – shoppers in Hatfield – were presented with pictures of a fictional town centre street scene. When the scene contained both a skinhead and a CCTV camera, the participants, aged between 18 to 70 years, reported raised concern about walking in the scene, compared with when the same scene was either empty, contained a woman with or without a CCTV camera, or a skinhead without a camera. In other words, it was specifically the combination of a skinhead and CCTV that provoked fear – neither had any effect on their own.

Having read the research findings I disagree.

The  study says more about our association of CCTV cameras with crime and their use as a deterrent for crime than it does about CCTV cameras not reassuring the public.

Initially looking at an urban street scene the study subjects think – this is a place I have never been to before but it looks ok. When a CCTV camera is added the perception of the neighborhood changes and subjects think – hold on the CCTV cameras must be there for a reason. Then when their fears are confirmed by the addition of a perceived negative image (the skinhead) that creates a potentially threatening situation, so we cannot be surprised with the findings of this research.

You could achieve the same results as this study by showing a group of people a picture of a castle (for example) in daylight, then showing them a picture of a castle at night. In daylight the castle is an interesting historical building that the subjects might want to visit. Show them the same scene at night and it produces an entirely different effect. Most people are frightened and wouldn’t want to go there.

The study shows nothing about how people feel about CCTV all it proves is that the majority of people in the study associate CCTV cameras with crime,  the more dangerous parts of town and the fight against crime.

To read the research paper click below

The relationship between antisocial stereotypes and public CCTV systems: exploring fear of crime in the modern surveillance society

To discuss this study visit the CCTV group on linkedin SIGN UP TO JOIN HERE. Or add a comment below.

Study Abstract

Situational crime deterrence measures like CCTV are not always associated with reductions in fear of crime. This study explores this unexpected finding by investigating the interaction between target type and the presence of a CCTV camera, in order to test the effect this has on impressions of the target and corresponding fear of the location the target was shown in. Participants (n=120) were shown either a picture of a male ‘skinhead’, a ‘studious’ female, or no one within an urban setting in which an obvious CCTV camera was either present or absent. Participants then rated the scene using scales estimating crime frequency, worry and target activity. Estimates of location safety fell for the male ‘skinhead’ target and activity impressions were more negative, but only when a CCTV camera was also present. Ironically, in some circumstances, public crime deterrence measures may prime pre-existing negative stereotypes about others and so foster suspicion, undermine trust in others, and increase fear of crime.

5 Responses to Does CCTV make you feel safer?

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Cware, Paul Wright. Paul Wright said: RT @Controlware Does CCTV make you feel safer? […]

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  3. bowskill says:

    Thanks for the post. I agree that there are flaws with this research. In my blog post, I mention some of the problems I could see with it, particularly in terms of the method they use to try and get at the psychological mechanisms underlying fear of crime.

    I wouldn’t want to defend their research too much, but I wonder when you say that “it says more about associations with crime” that this is actually the point they’re trying to get at. If CCTV cameras are associated in our minds with crime, then this alone may compromise the reassurance they can offer in certain contexts. I think they’re basically trying to make the point that fear of crime and perception of CCTV cameras is contextual. So if it weren’t so methodologically flawed, what the reasearch might be trying to suggest is that CCTV is inappropriate in some contexts because it might actually be interacting with other things (e.g. presence of scary looking strangers) to increase fears of crime. This seems to occur for the very reason that we do associate its presence so heavily with crime (its this association that undermines the ability to reassure).

  4. controlware says:

    I wonder how much their research cost to come up with the fact that we associate CCTV cameras with crime?

    CCTV is a negative thing for most people and it is normally installed in areas of high crime rates so the typical thought process when confronted with a picture of an area you don’t know runs something like CCTV cameras + scary strangers = danger. But there is also the other side of the coin where CCTV is supposed to reassure. There is plenty of evidence for this – many people make requests to the council for CCTV to be installed in their local areas. Ok leaving aside whether CCTV works (and the other arguments about CCTV itself), people are requesting CCTV because they feel it will make a difference and feel more reassured with it there.

  5. bowskill says:

    Hi Controlware

    Thanks for your comments. It’s a really interesting debate.

    To be fair to the authors, I think most research has some kind of political message behind it, however implicitly. It’s almost unavoidable and I wouldn’t see this alone as a case for dismissing the value of a particular piece of research (although I think researchers should always try and be open and reflect on the angle they’re coming at something from to ensure a degree of transparency). Having read the paper, I’m persuaded by a lot of the points they make about the relationship between Fear of Crime and the prevalence of CCTV (which a growing body of research backs up), but much less so by their own method of examining it.

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