In the past decade, no innovation in policing has come with as much hype and genuine promise as video cameras, says Governing magazine. It’s come with easy money. A significant portion of the homeland security funds the feds have sent to state and local governments has gone to install video surveillance systems; the Department of Homeland Security has not kept track of how much. Although the ostensible point of the cameras was stopping terrorists, cities knew their day-to-day value was in targeting more traditional forms of urban crime.
While anecdotes of crimes solved and averted are plentiful, researchers say the record doesn’t add up to a compelling case. Recently, professors Brandon Walsh, of the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, and David Farrington of the UK-based Institute of Criminology, surveyed the research and came away underwhelmed. They found the presence of cameras associated with mild declines in crime–particularly in the UK–but that video surveillance is strikingly effective at only one thing: protecting cars from vandalism in parking lots. A study of cameras at 19 San Francisco sites found that property crime committed within 100 feet of them was down, but cameras were ineffective at greater distances and had no effect on violent crime.