So as I work on my thesis about CCTV public surveillance systems, I’ve developed a thought that I needed to write down somewhere.
Surveillance Theory Generally starts with Bentham’s “Panopticon” prison structure, which was intended to serve two functions:
1. Make an individual believe they are always being watched
2. Make an individual believe the risk punishment outweighs the benefits of any inappropriate action
These functions, in theory, deter a potential offender from committing a crime.
Police CCTV functions in a similar way. Cameras should deter crime through their presence, and aid in capture and prosecution of criminals.
There are two different kinds of deterrence. General and Specific. Specific focuses on the individual offender. By punishing them in a manner just severe enough to outweigh the benefit of the crime they committed, they should be deterred in the future from committing similar offenses. General Deterrence is the goal of Specific. If an individual is punished, those who know this individual should learn from his experiences.
Punishment has requirements though. It must be certain, swift, and severe (within reason).
So, take cameras again. If the goal of cameras is to aid in swift, certain and severe punishment, then it would come to reason that if the odds of capture for committing a crime in a public place were nearly 100%, then the risk of committing that crime is extremely high. This could theoretically happen if camera coverage of public spaces were nearly absolute. Commit a crime and you WILL be on camera. Police would know where you came from, what you did, how you did it, etc.
If risk level is increased to an absolute level, then the reward of many crimes becomes insignificant. Sell drugs outside? No way. Rob someone outside a night club? Not worth it.
Or is it? If someone sees a criminal act as a means to an end, then it might follow that the criminal act might be the ONLY available means. Decision to commit that crime would accompany acceptance of an immense level of risk. You will almost certainly be caught and punished.
You’d need to be a real hard-ass criminal to do that.
One of the most popular crimes that cameras can solve and deter are car thefts. It’s easy to see a car being stolen. In an area with complete camera coverage it becomes real easy.
A stolen car holds a certain level of value to whoever is stealing it. Or to whoever it is being stolen for. If the risk level is increased drastically, maybe the reward slides on a scale with that risk? By making the risk outweigh the reward, crimes where reward cannot slide to outweigh risk might be eliminated, but what about the types of crime that remain? Crime that is rewarded BECAUSE it is risky. Think of it like goose barnacles. They’re worth a ton of money because they’re hard to get.
So if you manage to eliminate low level crimes from the public space, and individuals with low level criminal ambitions are no longer relevant, what is left? High level criminals and high level crimes.
Instead of preventing crime, you’ve inadvertently created a world where the only crime that pays is the most violent and damaging. Crime that, until then, was least likely to occur.