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Public space closed circuit television (CCTV) systems can prevent crime. However, this is generally only achieved when careful consideration is given to all of the components of the system and where there is a detailed understanding of crime in the local area. Given the significant investment required to establish and maintain a public space CCTV system, it is therefore essential that adequate planning be undertaken before embarking on this form of crime prevention.

CCTV is not a panacea for crime. Studies have shown increases in crime after installation of public space CCTV systems, minor displacement of crime and a host of problems with monitoring, maintenance and system upgrades. Once installed, systems are rarely removed, necessitating a long-term financial commitment. It should also be noted that many crime prevention outcomes are best achieved through a combination of measures, rather than relying solely on one approach, and CCTV is no exception.

Purpose of this manual

In recent years, there has been increased use of CCTV systems in public spaces. Improved technology, high crime rates, terrorism and health and safety concerns are just some of the reasons contributing to this.

This manual has been developed for local government authorities, chambers of commerce and other Australian organisations involved in the establishment of public space CCTV systems. This manual aims to guide organisations through some of the many steps and considerations necessary to establish a public space CCTV system.

Information relevant to a diversity of locations has been included, although specific local circumstances will ultimately shape how this manual is used.

This manual is not exhaustive and does not canvass in-depth all of the technical and legal issues relevant to establishing a public space CCTV system. Relevant agencies, legislation and policy guidelines operating in individual jurisdictions will need to be consulted and legal advice sought as required.

CCTV systems

A CCTV system consists of a series of components. These components each contribute to the smooth and effective running of the system. The core components of a public space CCTV system include:

  • cameras;
  • footage;
  • monitoring; and
  • governance arrangements.

Understanding how all of the components operate and interact is critical to any decisions to establish a public space CCTV system—there is clearly much more to consider than simply installing CCTV cameras.

Public space

This manual only relates to CCTV systems operating in public spaces. Public spaces generally include areas that the public can freely access. Malls, CBDs and public streets are public spaces that have, in recent years, attracted greater CCTV surveillance.

The distinction between public and private space has blurred over time. While the manual specifically covers public space, the integration of public and private CCTV systems will need to be considered in particular areas. The operation of CCTV systems in private space is not considered here.

Steps for establishing a public space CCTV system

The following steps are recommended for establishing a public space CCTV system:

  • understanding crime and crime patterns (including spatial and temporal trends);
  • conducting a site analysis;
  • establishing objectives;
  • scoping the system, including comprehensive analysis of each component of a CCTV system
  • cameras
  • monitoring
  • footage
  • governance;
  • accurately estimating costs (including installation, maintenance, monitoring, staff and opportunity costs);
  • installing, trialling and running the CCTV system; and
  • monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of the CCTV system.

Each of these steps will be considered in this manual. It should be noted that these steps will rarely work in a direct linear fashion as outlined above, but will depend on local needs and conditions.

Box 1: A public space CCTV system in action

Violent and property crimes had increased significantly in the central business district (CBD) of Harmony Heights. The local government authority reviewed the local crime data (provided by police) and conducted an audit of the CBD. Lighting was improved, maintenance regimes were adopted to keep the area clean, rapid graffiti removal procedures were initiated and rangers deployed in the CBD. Joint police and ranger operations were also conducted during peak offending periods. While there was a small reduction in crime through these measures, it was considered that the installation of a public space CCTV system throughout the CBD would help combat the incidence of assault, street robbery and malicious damage to property and stealing from motor vehicle offences.

After thorough analysis of crime trends and local conditions, it was decided that an optic fibre-based CCTV system would be introduced. Conduit laid for telecommunication systems was utilised to transmit images from the cameras to a new control room in the council administration block (adjacent to the main street of the CBD). A mixture of fixed cameras and pan, tilt and zoom (PTZ) cameras were installed to maximise the surveillance area and to enable control room monitoring staff to visually track would-be offenders.

Sufficient cameras were installed to monitor the areas with the greatest foot traffic and covering the known crime hot-spots. All cameras fed live images into the control room that was staffed on Thursday evenings and then 24 hours a day throughout the weekend period. Outside of these times, footage was recorded for later use and review. The control room was equipped with computers to store the digital images (25 frames per second of footage

captured and stored for 28 days). Strict protocols governed access to the control room and protection of data.

During the installation of the system, considerable time was spent ensuring that the quality of images captured from the cameras (both day and night) was of a suitable standard to be utilised by police for the purposes of courtroom evidence. The improved lighting levels in the CBD and good quality cameras ensured that images captured during the evening and night could be tendered as evidence in the prosecution of offenders.

A significant advertising campaign, including installation of signage throughout the CBD, informed visitors of the operation of the CCTV system. Telephone numbers were also promoted for contacting the council for any queries or grievances that might be held in relation to the CCTV system. Detailed guidelines developed by the council (in conjunction with police, community representatives and business representatives) outlined when images could be accessed and who could access them, how to raise complaints and the responsibilities of staff when using the system.

After 12 months of operation, a comprehensive independent evaluation was conducted. It revealed that there had been modest reductions in the key target offences, all requests for images had been met and police were generally happy with the quality of the images supplied. The equipment performed well, with few inoperative periods and perception surveys revealed high levels of community approval for the system.

This case study provides some insight into the components and factors that work together to establish a successful public space CCTV system.

Box 2: Practitioner comments—Starting out

What advice would you give to a local government authority embarking on the development of a public space CCTV network?

Make sure your council does its homework and plans well ahead. If using a consultant, make sure they are very experienced in public place systems. The outcomes you want should be clear from the start and then ensure that designs reflect this. There are so many CCTV options available for varying situations (night, day and both) and if you pick the

wrong system, cameras, design etc you may not get the outcomes you want. Look for opportunities to partner in different ways with other government bodies—the police should be at the top of the list. Please don't skimp on the investment and make sure your council contacts other councils and gets the good, bad and ugly of the system they have in place.

Source: Paul Fanning, General Manager, Wollongong City Centre Ltd, personal communication (2009)

Last updated
3 November 2017