City cameras 'don't cut crime'
Western Mail | April 25, 2005
By Jenny Rees
CCTV does not reduce violent crime, according to new research, but the big brother cameras could be saving lives as the number of people needing medical attention falls.
Researchers in Cardiff have found that although the cameras in town centres are not acting as a deterrent for attackers, they allow police officers to respond to incidents more quickly, reducing the number of people who attend hospital accident and emergency departments.
Cardiff University's Violence Research Group found that there has been a significant fall in serious violence, with Wales seeing a greater fall than England - 20%, compared to 13% over the border.
This was despite conflicting statistics released last week - the British Crime Survey for 2004 showed violent crime down 10% on last year, whereas separate quarterly figures showed a 9% increase in violent crime recorded by the police in the final three months of 2004 compared with the same period of 2003.
The Cardiff University group analysed figures for assault related injuries from a representative sample of 32 major A&E departments in England and Wales. The study also looked at the effectiveness of CCTV surveillance in preventing violence, and the reliability of police statistics as a measure of violent crime.
The study found that an estimated 25,700 fewer people attended major accident and emergency departments after violence-related injury in England in 2004 compared with 2000 and 2,800 fewer in Wales. The greatest decreases in England and Wales were observed in 2004.
Prof Jonathan Shepherd, director of the Violence Research Group at Cardiff University and a consultant face and jaw surgeon said, 'Prevention of violence- related injury is a major public health priority. These results represent a clear reduction in harm across all age groups and both genders.'
The installation of city centre CCTV was followed by an increase in police detection of violence and disorder, and a decrease in serious violence, according to injury data.
Prof Shepherd said, 'These findings indicate that police statistics are not a reliable measure of violence.
'Effectiveness of CCTV probably lies less in preventing assaults and their precursors, but more in preventing injury through detection and rapid intervention by the police, thereby reducing burdens on A&E departments.
'Not surprisingly, if you have 180 cameras in the city centre and police officers monitoring screens day and night, 365 days a year, they find out about more crime and violence and disorder, so from a police standpoint the number of crimes goes up, because they find more.
'But the officers who monitor the screens are in constant touch with patrols in the area and their response can be very rapid, so that they break up an argument before an injury or serious injury is caused.
'If the police get there, there has still been a disorder but the person is not seriously hurt.
'The parallel is in the school playground. If a teacher gets to a fight or argument early then no harm is done, but the incident is still recorded.'
Prof Shepherd added, 'That leads us to say overall police statistics on violence are not an accurate reflection, because in our study increased police detection was accompanied by fewer attendances at A&E for treatment.
'We think that police violence statistics are a poor barometer of violence and the British Crime Survey is a far more accurate reflection.'
Besides reducing attendance at A&E, Prof Shepherd added that in turn the pressure on NHS staff may have been reduced as there were likely to be fewer anti-social incidents at hospitals and fewer admissions.