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The advancement of technology and the concern to achieve the correct prevention of crime has led our society to make important changes not only legal but also environmental, finding among these changes a considerable increase in the number of security and surveillance cameras in public spaces.

But, is the use of security cameras and surveillance in public spaces a really effective measure to reduce crime? Unfortunately no. This is more an investigative measure than a preventive measure. 

Situational Prevention

The purpose of security cameras in public spaces is to deter potential criminals and increase the sense of security of citizens. There are more and more streets in urban centers where we can find these cameras, but the following questions may be asked: is it really effective? Does crime decrease or does it only move it to another area?

To evaluate the effectiveness of this system, systematic reviews about the operation of these CCTVs must be sought (a systematic review is a scientific investigation in which the original studies on a subject are analyzed, in order to synthesize the available scientific information, increase the validity of the conclusions of individual studies and identify areas of uncertainty where research is necessary).

To do this, we turn to the document “ Crime prevention effects of closed-circuit television: a systematic review” By Welsh and Farrington, who conducted a systematic review of 22 investigations around the effectiveness of video surveillance cameras against property crimes and violent crimes.

The investigations analyzed have measures of crime before and after and compare a treatment area in which the intervention was applied with a control area in which no intervention was applied. In addition, the evaluations were carried out mainly in urban centers, parking lots, residential areas, housing, and public transport.

The analysis of the results shows that video surveillance cameras have a modest impact on crime, through the following conclusions:

CCTV surveillance has no effect on violent crime levels.

Surveillance cameras appear to be effective in preventing crime in parking lots (thefts inside vehicles or vehicle thefts). However, in the evaluations, the cameras were only one of the prevention tools, together with security guards, lighting improvements, etc. so it is not possible to evaluate the effects of the cameras independently.

The effectiveness of CCTV surveillance is greater when the camera’s coverage comes from an area that is located in a higher place.

The results of the study do not make it possible to assure if a crime displacement occurs (however, some criminological theories, including various theories of situational prevention, consider that in the face of this type of measure the displacement of the crime is likely to occur).

With all this, we can conclude that while surveillance cameras can be effective in preventing vehicle theft (along with other preventive measures), they do not seem especially useful in preventing violent crime. However, it is necessary to study whether or not there is a displacement of crime, and whether the possible reduction in crime in certain areas and environments is sustained over time.

Other situational prevention measures

There are many more effective situational prevention measures to prevent crime in public places. We must remember that situational (or environmental) prevention, based on the Theories of Rational Choice and the theory of opportunity consider that criminals think and act like everyone else and that for a crime to be committed only an available objective, a motivated aggressor, and an absence of vigilance are necessary, so they consider it a good way to Preventing crime is eliminating the easiest objectives or increasing the negative consequences of crime.

If one of these three elements ceases to exist, the offender will change his behavior and not commit a crime. Thus, increasing the effort that the offender must make in order to commit a crime and the risk that he must face, reducing the benefits and rewards that the offender can obtain, limiting the excuses that justify the criminal actions, and avoiding the provocations that can incite a criminal to commit a crime, crime may be stopped.

Therefore, is the use of cameras valid in situational prevention? As a concept if, as it adds surveillance in the streets, which among other things increases the risk for the offender. But it has been shown that there are other simpler situational prevention measures that work better, such as better street lighting, the development of defensible space architecture, etc.

Although, in general, several studies maintain that with the measures of situational prevention a certain degree of crime displacement always appears, the conclusions show that in the case of serious crimes, the crime reduced by situational prevention is superior to the crime displaced. Being the actions of situational prevention are much less intrusive measures for the citizen than the measures of the criminal justice system, and being the majority of them easy to implement, it is advisable to be able to do a study on them whenever they intend to develop crime prevention strategies in any environment.

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