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Study: Surveillance Cams Worth the Money, Don’t Always Reduce Urban Crime

September 19, 2011 By

More big cities are turning to surveillance video cameras as a means to fight crime, especially as police departments face the grim prospect of budget cuts and reduced manpower.

But do surveillance cameras actually have the power to reduce crime, and furthermore, are they worth the money? The answer might be yes on both accounts — so long as the cameras are actively monitored and there are enough of them.

The Urban Institute, which studies public policy decisions in Washington, D.C., and across the U.S., examined the surveillance camera systems in use by law enforcement in Baltimore, Chicago and Washington, D.C., to address what the organization said is a dearth of research on the topic.

“Results varied, with crime falling in some areas and remaining unchanged in others,” the Urban Institute reported Monday, Sept. 19, in its findings. “Much of the success or failure depended on how the surveillance system was set up and monitored and how each city balanced privacy and security.”

The study highlights the differing results among Baltimore, Chicago and Washington, D.C.:

Baltimore has “virtually saturated” its downtown and high-crime neighborhoods with hundreds of cameras, which are actively monitored by retired police officers from a control center, according to the study. The cameras have contributed to as many as 30 fewer incidents of crime per month since they were installed. The city’s surveillance system cost $8.1 million as of mid-2008 for startup and ongoing maintenance, and that investment has resulted in $12 million in avoided “victimization” and criminal justice costs according to the Urban Institute. In other words, for every $1 spent on surveillance cameras, $1.50 is saved.

More than 8,000 video surveillance cameras have been installed in Chicago. Many of them are located in high-risk neighborhoods: “These cameras are highly visible, with signs and flashing blue lights, and connected by a wireless network that allows officers to watch real-time camera feeds from their desktop computers.” While crime hasn’t dropped in all neighborhoods where the cameras are located, those places where there are now fewer incidences of crime may have a higher density of cameras and those cameras are more actively monitored, according to the survey.

Unlike the first two cities, Washington D.C.’s camera system hasn’t resulted in less crime, the Urban Institute claimed. Beginning in 2006, some cameras were installed in locations prone to violent crime. The cameras were marked but didn’t have flashing blue lights like in Baltimore and Chicago. Furthermore, Washington, D.C., enacted a policy that restricted how the cameras were monitored in order to protect citizens’ privacy.
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Mike S.    |    Commented September 20, 2011

I notice that when the report says they're a success in Baltimore, you state that as a fact, but when it says they aren't in DC, you say that's "claimed." For that matter, the headline says they're "worth the money," again stating it as a fact. If only one out of three cities can say they definitely helped, is that really true? How about "sometimes" they are? You obviously are predisposed to believe one outcome. You might want to rewrite this to remove the bias.

K    |    Commented September 20, 2011

Mike, excellent point. From the financial stand point 50% return on capital invested for 3 years isn't very spectacular for munis. There are opportunities out there to do 300% annually. If the validation of financial effort comes once in three cases, then the return on capital is about 5% annually that is way below industry standard and close to inflation. It seems the only winners are older police officers, who can patrol the streets not having exposure to elements and no need to compete with physically superior criminals.

T. Jensen    |    Commented September 20, 2011

Just another step in eroding our freedoms... "Big Brother is Watching, indeed. someone should tell the governmental TRASH that came up with this that 1984 was not a governmental model, but a warning.

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