It's official! CCTV cameras do not cut crime. Except possibly theft from cars left in car parks. I said as much in my book The Rotten State of Britain, published a year ago (watch out for the paperback, coming soon).
But now a major (and expensive) study by the Metropolitan Police has come to the same conclusion. There are about a million CCTV cameras in London, and – industry experts estimate – about 3.8 million in the country as a whole. But only one crime is solved for every 1,000 CCTV cameras. The Met figures show that each case helped by the use of CCTV costs about £20,000 to solve.
The rapid spread of CCTV cameras has gone hand in hand with a massive increase in crime, particularly violent crime. People demand CCTV because it makes them feel safer. Unfortunately it doesn't actually make them safer. All it does is subject them to snooping and abuse. Local councils had to be told to cut back their snooping on people they suspected of leaving their wheelie-bin lids open, or letting their dogs foul the pavement. Other officials have used cameras to ogle female airport passengers. Given the number of people with access to CCTV images, it can't be long before we find people being blackmailed over them, as has happened in the US. Maybe it's already happened here too.
While CCTV images may give officials a thrill, the Met study confirms that they are utterly useless in prosecuting cases. Often, the images are not clear enough to make an identification that would stand up beyond reasonable doubt. More often still, the images are not securely stored – so the courts throw them out, on the grounds that they might have been tampered with.
So why do we have CCTV at all? I suspect it's mostly officials covering their backs. If crime occurs and they have done nothing, they will get criticized. If they put up CCTV, at least they can say they made an effort, even though it didn't work out, as it (almost) never does. And for that, we are compromising our privacy and passing more potential power on to the authorities. Not worth it, I would say – if we ever got so much as a national debate on the subject, which of course we won't.