There is little doubt that surveillance systems help to reduce certain types of crimes. An article on the American City & Country website illuminates the fact that, while public surveillance in Chicago and Denver has decreased crime rates, it has sometimes been a thorny issue.
Whether public or private surveillance is in effect, it does do the job of reducing certain types of crime if utilized correctly. However, as is pointed out on TopTenReviews in “The Pros and Cons of Public CCTV Monitoring”, while surveillance and the knowledge that someone is watching decreases crimes involving property damage and theft rather well, “being watched does nothing to stop public crimes of passion.” In addition, the same article points out that oftentimes, the acts of crime are simply moved to areas not under surveillance.
Also, there is a cost involved. Chicago has taken to recruiting volunteers to keep costs down, according to the American City & Country article cited. If the systems are not monitored, they provide little value. A Hotel Business Review article on “Surveillance Systems: Pros and Cons” even says monitoring is imperative. Not only is this a potential liability issue if active monitoring is not involved, but “After an incident is reported, managers often turn to the monitoring equipment only to find that the system has recorded over the old footage or a camera was malfunctioning and didn’t even record anything.” Technology has a tendency to occasionally be faulty. It must be checked, and the systems need to be monitored.
Another area of concern may be the technology itself that is implemented. There are many low do-it-yourself solutions on the market, and some of the cheaper equipment is obsolete, poorly documented and/or only has functionality that works with certain systems.
Even well-documented, functional and monitored systems may not be of a great benefit if the personnel monitoring the systems are poorly trained. Sometimes, cash-strapped cities will purchase surveillance systems without budgeting for proper training. This is a huge mistake, and problems may be undetected or mishandled as a result.
Still, surveillance is often a deterrent within retail stores. Customers knowing they are being watched are less likely to shoplift, and employees also benefit from not being falsely accused if something comes up missing. This is one area where the benefits can be best realized.
Another benefit that many may not consider is public safety. Not only can crimes be monitored from remote locations, but dispatchers can even monitor the situation until help arrives, sometimes up to 150 feet from the location of the camera. This can be handy for identifying victims or people needing medical help quickly.
Still, the biggest hurdle is probably privacy. Western nations, and particularly the United States, tend to value freedom very highly. All of this public scrutiny can make privacy advocates nervous. Court cases have sometimes resulted in the freezing of surveillance systems in some jurisdictions, and the challenges are likely to go on for some time. There are restrictions on what types of surveillance, where and how. For example, in some places it might be perfectly legal to have recorded video, but when it comes to audio surveillance, some jurisdictions have ruled this as illegal and an imposition upon privacy even in public areas.
That last con is not yet settled. Because it is not a technological, training or budgetary problem but a sociological issue, it is one point that needs to be heavily weighed in for any given situation.