Opinion Column


Cameras have dubious record for actually preventing crime

By Laila Yuile, City Hall




Columnists Laila Yuile and Brent Stafford battle over the issues of the day. The winner of last week’s duel on civil liberties was Brent with 56%.

This week’s topic:

Should a network of CCTV cameras be installed in public spaces to reduce and solve crime?

You leave the underground parking lot of your condo, drive to work and park in a public parking lot. Then you walk to the bank machine, get a coffee and head to work. First stop after work is the gym, then the grocery store and back home. But did you even realize you were being recorded for much of that journey?

By the time the average person has finished their day, they are likely to have passed by several CCTV cameras. They are in most underground parking lots, shopping centres, hotels, every bank and ATM, and even some fitness clubs.

In 2009, a count was done in Vancouver on the number of CCTV cameras and over 2000 were found in the downtown core alone. Who knows how many there are right now?

Read Brent Stafford's column

Following the sexual assaults that occurred around the University of B.C. campus last year, many were calling for the installation of CCTV cameras to ensure student safety. Others cited privacy concerns and civil liberty infringements, and the university decided that no new cameras would be installed until a full security review was completed sometime this year.

In fact, while many law enforcement officials and governments around the world have heralded them as a major crime-fighting tool, that claim is questionable. For instance, the U.K. has a large network of CCTV cameras and yet there is ample research to show it has only a modest impact on general crime rates – and then only in specific circumstances.

Take a look at the Stanley Cup riot. Extra CCTV cameras were installed all over the city and yet it’s doubtful that even one prevented someone from committing a crime. It’s not even known how much that CCTV footage played a part in the investigations of the crimes committed.

In B.C., the office of the privacy commissioner stated that CCTV should only be used as a last resort — in high-crime areas and only where less-intrusive policing hasn’t worked. The benefits must outweigh the negative privacy implications and I agree.

Clearly, public safety is a No. 1 priority, but in many areas a network of cameras already exists in businesses and public facilities. There is no need to add more, unless a specific issue exists indicating otherwise. Public spaces are just that — public — and the goal should be to prevent crime from happening in the first place.

Laila Yuile is an independent writer, blogger and political commentator. You can read her blog at lailayuile.com.





Who wins this week's duel on CCTV cameras?

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