Community Safety and Crime Reduction: An Evaluation of the Role of New Technology
Recent technological advances have effectively changed the way we conduct business, secure our borders, fight our wars, diagnose diseases, etc. Indeed, thanks to advances in technology, the world as we know it today looks very different from the world of yesteryears. The fact that technology continues to have a significant impact on almost every facet of our lives is undeniable. One of the areas in which recent advances in technology remains most visible is security. Today, unlike two or three decades ago, there are a wide range of hi-tech security devices that have been specifically developed to help in fighting crime. From CCTV cameras to alarm systems to GPS tracking and even software designed to examine online chat records, the fight against crime has surely gone high-tech. It is however important to note that the utilization of some of these technological advances in the war against crime has raised eyebrows most particularly amongst those who feel that such technologies could violate not only the civil but also the privacy rights of those whose security they are supposed to enhance. There are also those who question the effectiveness of the said technologies when it comes to crime reduction. It should however be noted that when it comes to crime reduction, the relevance of the said technological advances cannot be overstated.
Technology and Community Safety: An Overview
Although crime rates in the U.S. have been on a downward trend according to the annual crime statistics released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), individual cases of crime reported to the police continue to be significantly high (FBI, 2012). In that regard, there exists a need to actively seek additional ways of fighting crime. Indeed, law enforcement authorities and even private citizens are increasingly using emerging technological devices as security enhancement tools. Whether these technologies have any impact on community safety is subject to debate. In my opinion, the utilization of some technologies could in this case help not only in the prevention of crime but also in the apprehension of criminals. In this case, I will use the Global Positioning System - GPS as an example in an attempt to support my assertion. Generally, recidivism rates across the nation remain particularly high. What this means is that a certain percentage of those released from jail are more likely than not to be rearrested for the same or different crimes. By tracking known offenders using GPS, in real time, we could help bring down the number of reported crimes while at the same time protecting innocent citizens from harm. For purposes of this discussion, community safety will be taken to be a situation whereby members of the community feel sufficiently protected from criminal activity.
The Impact of New Technologies on Community Safety
In seeking to highlight how new technologies continue to impact on community safety, I will largely limit myself to three recent technologies. These include: CCTV cameras, GPS, and advanced alarm systems. In the first part of each section, I will present evidence that suggests a definite impact on crime reduction. The second part of each section will address dissenting views.
This is one recent security technology whose effectiveness in tackling crime has been a hotly debated issue. In recent times, a number of western nations have stepped up their utilization of closed circuit television - CCTV cameras in an attempt to not only avert crime but to also increase chances of nabbing criminals. Great Britain remains one of the places with the highest number of installed CCTV cameras. According to Siegel (2012), as of 2011, approximately 4.2 million CCTV cameras were believed to be in operation in Great Britain alone. This as the author further points out translates to one CCTV camera for every 14 Britons. In the author's own words, "it has been estimated that the average Briton is caught on camera 300 times each day" (Siegel, 2012, p.118). Has such a high number of CCTV cameras had any impact on crime prevention and/or reduction in Great Britain? Available evidence suggests that indeed, CCTV surveillance could have had a significant impact on crime prevention and thus reduction not only in Great Britain but also in other parts of the world.
Approximately 20 years ago, CCTV footage helped reveal the identities of two boys who abducted and murdered a two-year-old by the names James Bulger. This remains one of the most cited cases in arguments seeking to support the utilization of CCTV surveillance cameras as a crime prevention tool. In this particular case, James Bulger was abducted by two teenage boys from a shopping complex near Liverpool after her mother became momentarily detracted (Barak, 2007). Bulger's battered body was discovered two days later. Luckily enough, the shopping center from where Bulger had been abducted was fitted with numerous CCTV cameras in a number of strategic locations (Barak, 2007). Soon, police officers were able to retrieve images of the two-year-old being led away by two boys who were promptly identified and subsequently arrested. This is one instance where CCTV footage has helped in the apprehension of criminals. CCTV cameras were also credited for the successful apprehension of David Copeland. Copeland who has come to be widely referred to as the 'London Nail Bomber' was the architect of a bombing campaign that left several dead and scores injured. In this particular case, CCTV images captured David roaming around the sites where the bombs were later on planted.
In the opinion of Welsh and Farrington (2009), CCTV cameras could also be instrumental in not only the prevention but also the detection of terrorist acts. In the words of the authors, "the role of the CCTV in counterterrorism was further emphasized in the suicide bombings carried out in London's transport system on July 7, 2005" (Welsh and Farrington, 2009, p.29). The authors in this case further point out that although CCTV footage did not avert the said attacks, it played a key role in the improvement of measures designed to counter future terrorist attacks in the city's public transport system.
A number of studies conducted in the past have also clearly demonstrated that CCTV cameras do indeed have an impact on crime reduction. For instance, as Siegel (2012) points out, on reviewing numerous studies on the effectiveness of CCTV surveillance technologies, Welsh and Farrington concluded that the said technologies are most effective in reducing vehicle crimes as well as crimes committed within car packs. Welsh and Farrington as Siegel (2012, p.118) further points out also found out "that CCTV schemes in the U.K. showed a sizeable (19%) and significant desirable effect on crime…"
Based on the discussion above, CCTV cameras aid in crime reduction in four main ways. To begin with, they act as a deterrent to crime. In this case, would be criminals may spot the camera and in such a case choose to abandon their nefarious activities altogether. This could help in reducing burglaries and other related thefts. According to Grolle (2009), the presence of a CCTV camera could force a potential offender to undertake a risk-benefit analysis of his action. If the risk of either immediate or future apprehension appears too great, a criminal is less likely to go ahead with his or her plans. Thus in the final analysis, when would be criminals are aware that every move they make is being watched, they are likely to think twice before committing a crime. Criminals are well aware that evidence presented in CCTV footage is almost impossible to beat in a court of law.
Secondly, CCTV cameras could help in the reduction and hence the prevention of crime by helping law enforcement officers in the positive identification and subsequent apprehension of law breakers. This according to Grolle (2009) can be made possible via the utilization of images capturing the commission of offenses. Removing such individuals from the society effectively averts the commission of further criminal acts thus bringing down the number of reported criminal activities.
CCTV cameras may also help in the aversion of crime before the same actually happens or takes place. For instance, in those instances where the said cameras are actively monitored by guards, it would be easy to identify suspicious looking individuals and hence institute early intervention measures before a crime occurs. As Grolle (2009) points out, staff monitoring the CCTV system could (based on their judgment) request for police assistance or deploy other security personnel on detection of suspicious behavior. This is yet another example of the relevance of CCTV cameras when it comes to crime reduction.
Further, when members of the public are aware that a given area is under CCTV camera surveillance, they are more likely to be less fearful. In such a case, the said members of the public could start using areas they previously avoided as a result of fear of attacks. The installation of CCTV cameras in public spaces could also in this case be a sign…