Researchers examine video surveillance effectiveness in Canada

A recent report from researchers at a variety of Canadian universities examines current trends in public surveillance systems. The research report, published by the Surveillance Camera Awareness Network (SCAN), looks into privacy concerns, overall installation trends for city projects, signage requirements, how CCTV technology has improved and the effectiveness of surveillance cameras.

The report starts with a look at the beginnings of public surveillance in Canada, going back to the early 1990s when the town of Sherbrooke, Quebec, became one of Canada's first cities to deploy a municipal surveillance system. The report continues by looking at government initiatives and surveillance program expansions across the nation. Also examined is private video surveillance operations (such as those systems installed by businesses on their own premises).

One of the biggest topics of the research paper, "A Report on Camera Surveillance in Canada, Part One", is whether there are merits to employing surveillance. The researchers write:

"The common assumption that these cameras act as both a useful forensic instrument and as a deterrent to wrongdoers appears in the statement about Edmonton cameras from Jim Taylor. As we shall see in this report, however, both assumptions are difficult to back up empirically."

The discussion of this point continues with a look at the very few research initiatives completed in Canada that consider surveillance system effectiveness.

"Systematic evaluations of the ability of camera surveillance to deter crime in Canada in particular have been few in number. A 2003 study by Welsh and Farrington performed a meta-analysis on twenty-two CCTV evaluations in the UK and North America. They found that the overall reduction in crime averaged approximately 4%, and that in the five North American studies in particular, none demonstrated evidence of a reduction in crime. Welsh and Farrington concluded that while camera surveillance was effective in dealing with vehicle crimes and reducing crime in parking lots, on the whole it had no effect on prevention of violent crimes (Welsh and Farrington 2003; see also Armitage 2002)."

The report proposes the idea that if citizens are made more aware of camera systems, the levels of crime in those areas will drop. But, the researchers also write that " cameras reduced some open drug dealing, but instead of deterring dealers entirely, illegal activity seems simply to have shifted into areas that were not monitored as heavily, particularly residential areas."

As the report continues, it examines such issues as municipal policy considerations to be reviewed before investing in public surveillance, and the overall factors driving surveillance implementations.

The report is available as a free download from in PDF format.