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
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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.