I went to the Institute of Criminology yesterday afternoon. Prof Martin Gill of Leicester University gave a brilliant talk on their extensive study on assessing the effectiveness of CCTV in reducing crime.
This was a proper, scientifically-conducted study with plenty of field work and “user studies”—including fascinating simulations with cooperative shoplifters rigged up with hidden cameras and microphones, as well as interviews with convicted murderers.
The speaker had wonderful war stories on people protecting the wrong things, or the right things in the wrong ways, and generally failing to understand how criminals actually operate. He clearly speaks the same language as us and I told him I’d like to invite him to give a seminar here.
One gem among many was the shop that believed itself ultra-secure because it had a giant, scary-looking, 130-kg-of-muscle security guard at the exit; to which the expert shoplifter commented “I’ll have an easy time here! Their only protection is that enormous bloke over there that I can easily outrun!”. The chest size of the guard is only scary if you’re planning to pick a fight with him.
Another good point was that several of the murderers had acted on impulse (alcohol, jealousy, rage) and were not planning to kill anyone when they got up that morning. At the time of killing their victim they were not acting exactly rationally and even the presence of a machine-gun-armed guard wouldn’t have deterred them, let alone a camera.
Anyway, one of the interesting high level messages, and the reason why I file this under “Security economics”, is that the ubiquity of CCTV cameras in the UK is apparently a straightforward consequence of the plentiful availability of government money for CCTV. This created pressure to bid for CCTV installation grants regardless of their actual effectiveness, as an easy way to get at the allocated grant funds.
Obvious meta-questions would then be: why was CCTV so over-funded in the first place? who are the CCTV suppliers that made all the money? and is anyone in a position to reassure us that, as we’d like to believe, there were no links?