Over in the U.K., closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras are a ubiquitous sight: the country—led by London—has more of the tiny public surveillance cameras than any other country in Europe. They’re now a part of pop culture and are referenced in songs, used as album artwork, and in the case of one intrepid band, used to make a music video.
The latest zinger in the debate over the effectiveness of CCTV is that, well, they’re not that effective after all. Detective chief inspector Mick Neville of Scotland Yard, metropolitan London’s police force, called the assumed crime-deterrents an “utter fiasco” earlier this week, adding that the cameras have only helped to solve 3 percent of street robberies and that people aren’t really camera-shy when it comes to committing crimes in public. (CCTV footage did, it’s nonetheless worth noting, help British police successfully investigate terrorism suspects in the July 2005 London transit bombings.)
For Torontonians, soon to be monitored on and in TTC buses, subways, streetcars, and stations, this should be a point of contention. Ontario’s privacy commissioner has already addressed Big Brother concerns by recommending annual audits, and that footage be deleted after three days (unless it’s being used in an investigation). And unlike in London and other major cities, Toronto transit cameras won’t be manned, reducing the likelihood of abuse by peeping Toms, stalkers, jealous ex-partners, and the bored. But if London, a city that is infamous for its use of surveillance cameras, continues to have to incorporate even more measures (including the ability to track distinctive logos on clothing and posting stills of suspects online), how effective will the initiative be in Toronto?
Neville’s admission bolsters the Toronto Public Space Committee’s claim that cameras don’t deter crime. Still, Scotland Yard isn’t writing off the cameras, they’re just arguing for more advanced surveillance technology. Nonetheless, the announcement is a big hint to the TTC and Toronto police that in a city with three times less people to monitor than London and perennial funding complaints, it might be more effective to just kick it old school and get police and transit officers in the streets and subways so they can deter crime and deal with it if it happens.
Photo by room929 from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.