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Using Public Surveillance Systems for Crime Control and Prevention: A Practical Guide for Law Enforcement and Their Municipal Partners

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Document date: September 19, 2011
Released online: September 19, 2011

Abstract

This publication is designed to guide city administrators, law enforcement agencies, and their municipal partners in implementing and employing public surveillance systems in a manner that will have the greatest impact on public safety. It details the various aspects of a system that are integral in yielding a cost-beneficial impact on crime, including budgetary considerations, camera types and locations, how best to monitor cameras, and the role that video footage plays in investigations and prosecutions. It also highlights the most prominent lessons learned in an effort to guide city administrators and jurisdictions that are currently investing in cameras for public safety purposes, as well as to inform those that are contemplating doing so.

The text below is an excerpt from the complete document. Read the entire report in PDF format.


Introduction

Municipalities across the country are in a constant search for effective public safety interventions that will curb crime and improve the livability and economic well-being of their communities. This is particularly true among law enforcement agencies that embrace a community policing philosophy, which has become a key component of policing efforts in most mid- and large-sized law enforcement agencies across the United States. While many believe that the adoption of community policing has led to more efficient and effective policing strategies, law enforcement agencies continue to grapple with limited resources and are therefore interested in employing new, cost-effective tools that can enhance their community policing efforts. Among the latest wave of public safety tools is the use of public surveillance systems, often referred to as Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV). While public surveillance systems are widely employed in the business sector to improve security, until recently the use of cameras to monitor public spaces has been much less common in the United States, in part due to concerns about privacy and civil liberties. Community policing, which embodies a combination of proactive crime prevention and community engagement with more traditional policing functions, may benefit from this technology because public surveillance can enhance problem solving strategies, aid in arrests and investigations, and ultimately increase offenders’ perceptions that they will be both caught and prosecuted. Public surveillance systems might also yield a secondary impact, serving to increase legitimate users’ perceptions of safety and thus their presence in public areas, which in turn may increase guardianship, improve police-community partnerships, and reduce crime.

The potential contributions to policing and public safety of public surveillance systems perhaps explain why their use has expanded in recent years. Unfortunately, these investments of scarce public safety resources are being made in the absence of research documenting the decisions behind camera investment and use and the lessons learned by cities that have employed this technology.

This guidebook aims to fill that gap, detailing the results of an in-depth qualitative data collection effort to examine and synthesize the experiences of three large urban cities that have invested in public surveillance systems in recent years. It serves as a companion document to an evaluation of the impact of public surveillance cameras in three cities that found that cameras can have a significant and cost-effective impact on crime. While cameras hold promise as an effective crime prevention tool, however, it is important to note that their impact is not a given, and varies considerably based on where cameras are located and the degree to which they are monitored and integrated into other law enforcement activities. This report is therefore designed to guide city administrators, law enforcement agencies, and their municipal partners in making decisions regarding their public surveillance systems in a manner that will yield the greatest intended impact. The guidebook answers many of the important questions that arise when implementing or expanding a public surveillance system. It details the various aspects of a system that are integral in realizing a cost-beneficial impact on crime, including budgetary considerations, camera types and locations, how best to monitor cameras, and the role that video footage plays in investigations and prosecutions. This publication also highlights the most prominent lessons learned in an effort to guide both city administrators and jurisdictions that are currently investing in cameras for public safety purposes, as well as inform those that are contemplating doing so.

End of excerpt. The entire report is available in PDF format.



Topics/Tags: | Crime/Justice | Washington D.C. Region


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