Jury Is Out on Value of Surveillance Cameras in Britain
02/24/99 06:22:09 PM
By Rachel Unsworth, Financial Mail on Sunday, London

   Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
   Feb. 21--For a nation that takes pride in not carrying identity cards,
   we are remarkably relaxed about the number of surveillance cameras
   that film us going about our daily business.
   Our fear of crime means most of us view them not as Big Brother spying
   devices but as watchdogs.
   It is estimated by the Closed Circuit TV User Group that a million
   such cameras are employed in Britain. Local authorities run nearly 500
   CCTV schemes, partly funded by Home Office grants.
   Though CCTV systems were initially installed in town centres to
   protect shops, they are spreading to residential areas, schools and
   parks, largely in response to the public's fear of crime.
   The jury is still out on the effectiveness of CCTV in fighting crime.
   Some studies suggest it merely displaces trouble to other areas. Last
   year, the House of Lords called for an independent inquiry into the
   merits of publicly funded schemes.
   Since the early Nineties, when public and private spending on spy
   cameras boomed, crimes against property have declined. But this trend
   was predictable as the economy improved following the recession.
   During the same period, violent crime has increased, which can be
   partly linked to higher alcohol consumption resulting from more
   disposable income.
   The Home Office, which has spent UKpound 45 million on CCTV since
   1995, is not emphatic about its effect. ``CCTV can be effective in
   reducing crime, and the fear of crime, when used as part of a wider
   strategy,'' it says.
   Britain's shopkeepers spent UKpound 42 million on CCTV in the 1996-97
   financial year, well down on previous years because of the number of
   systems already installed. Mike Schuck, the British Retail
   Consortium's assistant director for crime and security, says the
   cameras are not used solely to combat shoplifting. ``They help to
   improve workplace safety for employees,'' he says.
   In fact, cases of violence against shop staff went up by 44 percent
   between 1996 and 1997. But if the cameras do not deter crime, they may
   help to secure convictions.
   ``Police often find that when defendants see footage from security
   cameras, they plead guilty,'' said Ron Alalouff, from trade magazine
   CCTV Today.


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   (c) 1999, Financial Mail on Sunday, London. Distributed by Knight
   Ridder/Tribune Business News.

   AP-NY-02-24-99 1911EST