CCTV: A Law Enforcement Tool (Grant Fredericks, Police Chief Magazine)


What is CCTV?

Closed circuit television (CCTV) programs use surveillance cameras in public and private areas in an attempt to prevent property and personal crime. Not all CCTV systems are police-monitored, but some are (e.g. see Caplan et al. 2011 in Newark). CCTV is designed to increase formal surveillance by making it easier for the police (or other agencies) to monitor the behavior of citizens (including potential offenders). CCTV is intended to deter crime by increasing the risk of detection for criminal behavior. CCTV footage can also be used to identify suspects in offenses that are committed within view of the camera (see more on CCTV from Piza, 2018).

Effects of Closed Circuit Television Surveillance on Crime (David Farrington, Brandon Welsh, Campbell Collaboration systematic review)


CCTV surveillance (


The effects of CCTV on crime: What works briefing (College of Policing, UK)

What is the Evidence on CCTV?

CCTV is listed under “What’s promising?” on our Review of the Research Evidence. 


Welsh and Farrington (2008) examined the effectiveness of CCTV in reducing crime in public space. They synthesized 44 studies mostly from the United States and the United Kingdom and found that CCTV has a modest but statistically significant impact on crime, with particular effectiveness for reducing vehicle crime (i.e. car theft and car break-ins) in parking lots and garages.  There is not evidence that CCTV is linked to a reduction in violent crime.  The results were more supportive of CCTV in the United Kingdom than the United States.


The Future of Crime Prevention: Developmental and Situational Strategies (Brandon C. Welsh and David P. Farrington, National Institute of Justice)
Using Public Surveillance Systems for Crime Control and Prevention: A Practical Guide for Law Enforcement and Their Municipal Partners
(Nancy G. La Vigne, Samantha S. Lowry, Allison Dwyer, and Joshua Markman, Urban Institute)
A Review of CCTV Evaluations: Crime Reduction Effects and Attitudes Towards its Use (Coretta Phillips, Crime Prevention Studies, vol. 10)
CCTV Camera Evaluation: The Crime Reduction Effects of Public CCTV Cameras in the City of Philadelphia, PA Installed During 2006 (Jerry Ratcliffe and Travis Taniguchi, Temple University)
Video Surveillance in Public Places (Jerry Ratcliffe, Center for Problem-Oriented Policing)





How Should Police Be Using CCTV?


Welsh and Farrington (2010) note that the exact ways to maximize the effectiveness of CCTV are unknown, but they point to the importance of a high degree of camera coverage. Additionally, the successful interventions in parking lots combined CCTV with other interventions such as better lighting and increased security personnel.


They also note that the crime control benefits in city centers, where CCTV is frequently used in the U.S., have not been as great. They argue that “CCTV in city and town centers may be more effective if they are targeted on property crimes, targeted at specific places such as high-crime areas (as part of an effort to increase camera coverage), and combined with other surveillance measures” (Welsh & Farrington, 2010: 28). They also recommend that departments think about the use of mobile CCTV units that could be redeployed to high crime areas identified by crime analysts.


La Vigne and colleagues (2011: 1) provide 10 lessons for creating a public surveillance system. They are:


1. Assess your needs and budget before investing
2. Plan ahead for maintenance, infrastructure, and other ongoing costs
3. Plan camera locations to maximize the view-shed
4. Consider integration with other technology (e.g. gunshot detection systems, crime mapping software)
5. Balance privacy protection with system utility
6. Weigh the costs and benefits to using active monitoring
7. Integrate camera systems with existing practices and procedures
8. Set and manage realistic expectations for video footage quality
9. Use surveillance systems to complement, not replace, routine policing, investigations, and legal proceedings
10. Incorporate video evidence with witness testimony in court


A recent randomized controlled trial in Newark offers promising evidence for efforts to combine monitoring of CCTV cameras with directed patrols in an effort to ensure cameras are a proactive policing tool. Piza et al. (2015) examined the impact of a program where 19 treatment cameras were monitored by a special operator who could directly communicate with two patrol cars dedicated to responding to incidents observed by the operator. Calls for service analyses suggested overall reductions in violence and social disorder as a result of the intervention with no observed impact on narcotics offenses.

Evidence-Based Policing Matrix

CCTV Studies from the Evidence-Based Policing Matrix:

La Vigne et al. (2011)- Baltimore Police monitored CCTV cameras reduce crime in one Baltimore site, but not the other
La Vigne et al. (2011)- Chicago Police monitored CCTV cameras reduce crime in one Chicago site, but not the other
Piza et al. (2015) CCTV increased identification of criminal activity and a reduction of crime full-circle

These studies are both micro place interventions on the X-axis (scope of the target) 


Result: full-circle =successful intervention; grey-circle = mixed results; empty = nonsignificant finding; backfire = harmful intervention

Rigor: M = moderately rigorous; R = rigorous; VR = very rigorous

Y-axis: F = focused; G= general

Z-axis: R = reactive, P = proactive, HP = highly proactive


Camera image courtesy of Flickr user litlnemo and used under a Creative Commons license.