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Would Canadians be “safer with a camera on every corner”?

October 24, 2009

I haven’t got very involved with Canadian debates on surveillance yet (but don’t worry, I will!). However a comment piece in Thursday’s Globe and Mail, which demanded that Canadian cities install ubiquitous video surveillance, prompted me to pen an immediate letter, which was signed by both Professor David Lyon and myself. It was published today, slightly edited – the full version is below. (They also decided to edit out our respective titles, which makes me look senior to Professor Lyon. Oops.)

“Marcus Gee writes that “We’d be safer with a camera on every corner” (Comment, May 22nd, p.15). If only this were true. However it simply is not the case.

Mr Gee quotes the UK as an example of where video surveillance is effective, but this is not supported by the crime figures in the UK or by academic research. The most comprehensive evaluation of all studies done of the effects of CCTV on crime (by the Campbell Collaboration, 2009) concluded that it had little or not effect on the occurrence of violent crimes like the disgraceful murder of Christopher Skinner, which prompted Mr Gee to write. Even the limited British police assessment of CCTV conducted by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) in 2008, admitted this was the case.

It is easy to demand that ‘something must be done’ as a response to any particular incident of violent crime, and CCTV is the currently fashionable ‘something.’ But let us get beyond the superficial and look at the evidence. Then we could have a proper debate about CCTV.”

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