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CCTV as a tool for early police intervention: Preliminary lessons from nine case studies

Abstract

This study explores the prospect of utilizing CCTV as an early intervention mechanism to detect and disrupt street-level activity that can lead to violence. The analysis focuses on nine case studies in Newark, NJ, incorporating data from several sources, including video footage, computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system incident data, CAD event chronologies and face-to-face interviews with CCTV operators. The findings suggest that the benefits offered by CCTV, namely the instantaneous discovery and reporting of crime, may be rendered inconsequential by the process times associated with the differential-response policy of police dispatch. Potential methods by which police can more proactively utilize CCTV to prevent crime are discussed.

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Notes

  1. See Phillips (1999, p. 126) for a list and brief explanation of these mechanisms.

  2. As defined by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniformed Crime Report, Part 1 violent crime is comprised of four offenses: murder and non-negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault (see: http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2012/crime-in-the-u.s.-2012/violent-crime/violent-crime).

  3. See Piza et al (2012, pp. 9–11) for a more detailed description of the operationalization of these variables.

  4. A total of 12 450 incidents occurred in CCTV areas during the study period. However, 1651 were excluded from the analysis due to the call being canceled before an officer was dispatched or arrived on scene. Cancelation primarily occurs for two reasons. One, the reporting party informs the police that a response is no longer necessary. Two, CCTV operators may notify the dispatcher that no visual evidence exists to support a complainant’s claim that a crime occurred. For example, a caller may report a large fight at a certain street corner only for a CCTV operator to report that no such incident is taking place.

  5. In the lone incident lacking an intervention opportunity, the camera operator was monitoring the outside of a bar following a 9-1-1 call about a dispute occurring within the establishment. A patron was ejected from the establishment and later returned with a baseball bat and attacked the bouncers. The lack of an observed intervention opportunity is likely attributable to the fact that the events leading to the assault occurred indoors and not in the public space viewable by the operators.

  6. The MTI variable was converted from hours/minutes/seconds format to a continuous numeric value for the purpose of maintaining clarity. In this sense, the time interval of 1 min and 30 seconds is represented as ‘1.5 minutes’ since 30 seconds is one-half (0.5) of a full minute.

  7. Although this finding may surprise some, prior research has produced similar findings. Gill et al (2005), for example, found that operators across 13 control rooms only informed police of 24 per cent of the offenses they observed.

  8. Incident F did not have an identified intervention opportunity while a couple involved in a domestic dispute on a busy street corner in incident ‘G’ were not involved in a robbery that later occurred at the same location.

  9. Although we are not able to definitively state that the offenders knew cameras were present, site visits to the crime scenes confirm that the incidents occurred within feet of the cameras. Therefore, we find it reasonable to assume that persons on the scene were knowledgeable of the cameras.

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Acknowledgements

We express our gratitude to Sergeant Marvin Carpenter and the surveillance operators of the Newark Police Department for their generous support. This study would not have been possible without their high level of cooperation.

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Correspondence to Eric L Piza.

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Piza, E., Caplan, J. & Kennedy, L. CCTV as a tool for early police intervention: Preliminary lessons from nine case studies. Secur J 30, 247–265 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1057/sj.2014.17

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Keywords

  • CCTV
  • police response
  • crime escalation
  • crime precursors
  • Newark, NJ