Closed circuit television, better known as CCTV, is technology designed for visual surveillance. Its purpose is to monitor activities in a number of environments. It works by way of a dedicated communication link between a monitor and cameras (also known as a fixed link.)
Up until a decade ago CCTV didn’t get much notice. Now it’s use has grown exponentially. The UK stands out as an all-time high user of CCTV, finding the monitoring systems useful for public facilities, residential subdivisions, and parking lots. The budget for its annual use runs into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Many thousands of CCTV cameras, commissioned by public safety organizations, and neighborhood watch or homeowners associations, help reduce safety issues in areas such as buses and terminals, taxis and stands, trains and train stations, phone booths, vending machines and ATM locations. The cities and towns themselves are protecting their major thoroughfares and business districts with CCTV equipment that includes camera capacity for zooming, full tilting, panning and even infrared for night viewing. Hospitals are starting to use closed circuit television products to keep an eye on the interactions between hospitalized children and visiting parents or family members they suspect of molesting or otherwise abusing them.
While the technology was first seen in Britain as a deterrent and watchdog for major crime prevention, its use has increasingly come into play to catch in the act of, or deter from the act, of considerably lesser crimes. Which may or may not be seen as a good thing. The concern here is whether or not “big brother” will start watching. Just how far will they take it?
Where they’ve taken it from is from the prevention of physical assault crime and serious but lesser life threatening crimes such as burglary and car jacking to a current preponderance of smaller infraction oversight and prevention. In the UK, it’s not uncommon for CCTV to catch in the act someone whose crime is an attempt to commit a traffic violation, urinate in public, be publicly intoxicated and – horrible of horribles – fail to feed the parking meter. Underage smoking and drinking, use of illegal substances and occasions of sexual and racial harassment have also been exposed through closed circuit television wizardry.
Whether this British CCTV craze has really been a significant crime deterrent is hard to say.
Some public safety authorities claim reduction of violent and other crimes as high as 75 percent, stating CCTV as the reason behind this. Others dispute the statistics, stating that the results are flawed due to inept reporting and interpretation. One conjecture is that, because CCTV is much more prevalent in more affluent areas, criminals have merely moved down the road to those lower income areas whose residents and administrators cannot afford the costly CCTV system.
One result of CCTV’s capturing crimes in action is that a preponderance of alleged perpetrators, faced with the knowledge that their criminal actions have been captured on TV, are opting to plead guilty, saving taxpayers the cost of a lengthy trial. While this may be a good thing at first glance, the jury is really still out on whether this is justice served to the “innocent until proven guilty” or not.