Cameras Now Used For Crime Prevention & Surveillance

traffic control room

It was recently announced that Washington DC trumped Chicago in the sheer volume of photo enforcement. As reported by "They now have by far the most speed cameras, stop sign cameras and red light cameras per capital." While this is certainly good news when it comes to keeping the roads and motorists of the city safer, there are also much wider implications. Currently, Washington along with some other major US cities, are beginning to shift focus on their approaches to crime where cameras are concerned - real-time monitoring in particular becoming a goal of Washington law enforcement. As a result, it’s likely that we’ll begin to see cameras used in a far more broader role when it comes to crime prevention and criminal enforcement, but there could be other implications.

Cameras and Crime

While we may often assume that road and traffic cameras are essentially in place to capture and deter traffic-related crimes, modern police are becoming much more reliant on cameras as a general tool for combating crime. Washington police, in particular, are increasingly focusing their efforts around captured surveillance footage. In fact, according to "Law enforcement is looking to get real-time access in order to put the entire city on constant watch." This is of course, a divisive issue. The police department is aware of how valuable resource cameras are, and this is perhaps even more relevant in Washington given the huge amount of cameras that are in place in the city. Having greater access, especially real-time monitoring, could see a huge increase in crime prevention. As stated in the Washington Post, cameras are already a fundamental tool in combating crime for local police forces: "Investigators retrieved video from the Metropolitan Police Department’s 123 closed-circuit television cameras and the District’s network of red light and Department of Transportation cameras 931 times in fiscal 2012 - an increase of 15 percent over the previous year, according to police department data.". While some opponents to an increased level of surveillance argue that real-time monitoring and additional use of cameras is a breach of civil rights, the numbers do clearly show that police are finding cameras increasingly crucial in investigations.

Prevention and Statistics

One of the problems facing both sides of this debate, however, is the actual data on camera effectiveness. While Washington Police, for example, may have increased their use of cameras, what evidence is there that they are an effective tool? As explained by "The biggest problem may be the systems are too new: experts say the lasting impact of cameras may not be known until several years worth of data can be analyzed. Generally, the studies that have been conducted have found that premeditated crimes do tend to decline, but crimes of passion are not affected as much."  Cameras may certainly help police after the event but are unlikely to be an effective deterrent for a desperate addict. This is one potential problem, but on the other hand, being able to monitor in real-time could allow police to take the action they need. That said, drug enforcement, in particular, is itself seeing a shift in focus, as stated by the Washington Post: "Four decades after the federal government declared war on narcotics, the prevailing tough-on-drugs mentality is giving way to a more nuanced view, one that empathizes treatment and health nearly as much as courtrooms and law enforcement, according to addiction specialists and other experts."


One of the major questions that remain is just how effective will the increased use of cameras be? While in Washington there has been a huge surge in the number of cameras, there are certainly ways for motorists to be aware of where cameras are and whether they are working already. Conversely, there are also devices that streamline the camera and toll process available at many retailers. Ultimately, the evidence does suggest that cameras, whether traffic-related or otherwise, are having a profound effect on crime and criminal enforcement. How Washington proceeds could be an indicator of things to come for the rest of the US.