Public space CCTV: research findings

This report presents findings from a mixed methods research project commissioned to better understand the provision and use of public space CCTV in Scotland.

1. Executive Summary

1.1 Overview

In 2022, the Scottish Government commissioned a study of public space closed circuit television (CCTV) in Scotland, which aimed to update baseline evidence of the provision of public space CCTV in Scotland. The study was undertaken by a team of researchers from the University of Glasgow and the University of Edinburgh, with guidance from a Research Advisory Group consisting of key stakeholders in public space CCTV in Scotland.

The study sought to answer the following research questions:

1) What is the current provision of public space CCTV in Scotland and how, and for what purposes, do local authorities and Police Scotland use public space CCTV?

2) How do communities across Scotland perceive the use, effectiveness, and value of public space CCTV in their local communities?

3) What is the provision, delivery, operation, and maintenance of public space CCTV like in similar jurisdictions, and how does this compare with Scotland?

The project involved an in-depth, mixed methods approach to better understand the current provision and use of public space CCTV across Scotland, to assess the perceived use and value of public space CCTV in local communities, and to make international comparisons.

1.2 Definitions and background

The study defined public space as ‘those parts of the built and natural environment environment where the public has free access’ (Carmona et al., 2004: 10), while public space CCTV is defined, for the purposes of this research, as those systems utilised on the public streets and areas across Scotland and include fixed sites as well as non-fixed and rapid deployable CCTV vehicles (Scottish Government, 2011).

Public space CCTV was first introduced in Scotland in the 1990s and has grown from a tool primarily for police crime prevention, detection and evidence, to incorporate a range of uses for local authorities across Scotland, including anti-social behaviour, public reassurance, and environmental maintenance. The development, management and operation of public space CCTV in Scotland, including compliance with legislation, is a matter for local authorities and the police, working in partnership.

Existing research indicates that CCTV use has changed in recent years, involving a broadened scope as well as the development of new technologies (Skogan, 2019; Palace et al., 2023). The traditional fixed analogue camera is supplemented, and in many cases, replaced by digital cameras, portable and rapidly deployable cameras, CCTV vehicles, and automated number plate recognition (ANPR). However, as the national guidelines on the use of public space CCTV in Scotland are now more than a decade old, this study sought to reassess the landscape of public space CCTV across Scotland to explore how it is used, operated, managed, and perceived by both stakeholders and communities.

1.3 Methods

  • This study provides an in-depth, mixed methods account of the contemporary landscape of the provision, use, and perceptions of public space CCTV in a number of geographic areas of Scotland, involving a three-stage research design: (1) online surveys; (2) qualitative interviews; and (3) a comparative analysis.
  • Forty-four respondents from 18 local authorities and 10 Police Scotland divisions completed the survey, answering questions regarding: governance arrangements, funding arrangements, CCTV quantities and types, CCTV placement locations, the impact, benefits and challenges of CCTV, and future directions. Due to limits to the sampling, findings are not fully representative of all geographical regions of Scotland and cannot be generalised.
  • Twenty-six participants comprising police officers, local government employees, CCTV operators, community safety partnership staff, and local residents/community groups engaged in qualitative interviews. Interviews involved questions about perceptions of community safety and CCTV, the impacts of CCTV on daily life; and future directions in public space CCTV governance, scope, practices, and technologies.
  • The study incorporated an international comparative component that examined current practices of CCTV usage in England and Wales, and Denmark. Comparison with England and Wales provides valuable insight into the use of public space CCTV elsewhere in the UK. Denmark was selected as a jurisdiction of similar size but with a different approach to CCTV compared to Scotland. This involved desk-based research examining recent data and policies.
  • There is a lack of precise and established data on the number of CCTV cameras in Scotland, other UK nations and Denmark, therefore this study utilises estimates where available. The comparability of such estimates is limited due to differences in time periods and coverage. Logical inferences are drawn where possible, within the parameters of the imperfect evidence base.
  • The findings from the research are not representative of all local authorities or police divisions in Scotland, and therefore cannot be generalised to Scotland as a whole. In the subsequent reporting, reference to ‘Scotland’ corresponds to the geographic areas which participated in the research.

1.4 Key findings

1.4.1 Survey

  • CCTV was identified as a well-established aspect of the working practices of both local authorities and police respondents. Whilst the number of cameras in each local authority ranged from 20 to 524, most respondents reported on average 20 to 80 cameras. These were reported as being mostly located in residential areas, city centres, and town high streets.
  • Cameras were initially installed for the purposes of crime prevention, reducing fear of crime, and deterring anti-social behaviour, and in most areas these purposes have remained central. In a small but significant number of areas, the use of CCTV has expanded beyond these initial purposes to include housing, environmental and population management.
  • Swift and easy access to high-quality public space CCTV images is central to effective policing. However, local authorities face challenges such as limited time, resources, staffing, and funding, which require them to be strategic in their assistance to other agencies.
  • Nine local authority respondents in this study reported that they had had a major upgrade to their public space CCTV systems in the last three years. However, the standard of maintenance and technological specifications were concerns for police participants. This discrepancy was based on geographical factors with urban centres having reportedly better technology and more regular maintenance.

1.4.2 Interviews

  • While public space CCTV in Scotland continues to play a role in crime prevention and detection, interview data with stakeholders indicates that the use and purpose of public space CCTV has widened, as have the remits of police officers and local government employees working in community safety. Data from police and local authority surveys and interviews demonstrate that community safety and security in public spaces now not only entails responding to criminal behaviour, but also mental health emergencies, missing and vulnerable persons cases, environmental issues, and traffic issues.
  • Participants working for the police and local government expressed that there are disparities around governance and funding across different areas of Scotland, leading to ‘patchy’ and ad hoc arrangements that could benefit from updated, robust standards of best practice across the country. Many town and city centre police officers and local residents highlighted that there should also be a focus on the local, place-based contexts of public space CCTV where it is actually being delivered. The data in this study indicate that developments in the field of public space CCTV regulation and operation could benefit from addressing both the centralisation and localisation of public space CCTV in Scotland to enhance its strengths and mitigate its limitations and risks.
  • Interview participants, particularly women, expressed the view that the presence of public space CCTV made them feel safe(r). Several women mentioned that camera placements impacted where they would walk or park their cars, particularly at night. Furthermore, the absence or removal of public space CCTV cameras was more noticeable to both men and women than the presence of them which in turn made people feel uneasy. Some residents living in local authority housing felt comforted by the perception of being watched over by an operator, describing how someone was looking out for them when they were alone or in need of assistance.
  • While the study found no direct link between size or population density of an area and the effectiveness of public space CCTV coverage, there was a perception among some participants that rural areas were less well-served. In addition, one local authority respondent working in a rural area indicated that unofficial CCTV signs had been displayed in the absence of actual cameras to try and deter crime and increase feelings of safety.

1.4.3 Comparative analysis

  • Comparative analyses of public space CCTV provision, usage, governance and legislation elsewhere in the UK (England and Wales) and internationally (Denmark) highlighted the lack of centralised governance and regulation in Scotland and a lack of national coordination and response around emerging issues in different parts of Scotland in relation to public space CCTV.
  • The growth of the provision of public space CCTV in England and Wales in the last several years has put increased emphasis on ‘more recent innovations such as dash cams and body worn video’ (BSCC, 2021: 24).
  • As in Scotland, recent survey data from England and Wales suggests that there are disparities in how different stakeholders work together with regards to streamlining CCTV practices (BSCC, 2023a). Although public funding of CCTV in England and Wales has been in decline for some time, new investment funds have recently developed, with one of the most effective being the Safer Streets Fund, which was set up by the Home Office in 2020.
  • There is no equivalent position in Scotland at the moment for the Biometric and Surveillance Camera Commissioner (BSCC), the Home Office's independent oversight body for the investigation and regulation of CCTV cameras in England and Wales. While Scotland has recently established an office of the Scottish Biometrics Commissioner (2020), the role of this office does not include specific governance over CCTV and the installation of other types of surveillance technologies (Scottish Biometrics Commissioner, 2021-22: 13). Currently, Scotland remains under the jurisdiction of the Information Commissioner Office (ICO) for legislative governance, with the Data Protection Act (DPA) serving as the primary legislative reference point.
  • As of 2021, Denmark had approximately 1.5 million cameras, including those owned by businesses/enterprises, private persons, and the police/local authorities (, 2021). Public space cameras are installed by police and local authorities with around 300,000 cameras placed in public spaces, including on public transport. Moreover, Denmark’s POLCAM initiative, making CCTV camera registration mandatory for private businesses, organisations, and local public authorities, allows police access to footage from non-public space cameras.

1.5 Conclusions and implications

  • Survey and interview data indicates that the funding for public space CCTV systems in Scotland is complex. It appears that the funding relies on a mix of different sources such as the police, local authorities, private companies, and external funding. This has, in turn, led to divergences in technological equipment, technical capacity, and training standards, as well as perceptions of unfairness regarding funding distribution. Furthermore, there was a perception among some participants that rural areas were less well-served, with one indicating that local systems had adapted to need.
  • Both police and local authorities expressed an interest in a national ‘hub’, or centre of best practice and in the standardisation and centralisation of both policy and practice. It was suggested that this national hub could benefit local authorities as it would offer opportunities to discuss policy issues and the standardisation of practice across councils. Such a national ‘hub’ could also be usefully complemented with a ‘spoke’ model that engages with – and learns from – diverse geographical regions of Scotland in terms of sharing good practice, training and support.
  • Since its inception as a local tool of crime prevention in the 1980s, CCTV has grown exponentially and now incorporates a wide range of local, national and international priorities ranging from environmental monitoring to national security. At the same time, the technology itself has rapidly improved and its scope of action is increasingly complex. As such there is a need for clear lines of oversight and accountability that balance the needs of CCTV systems-operators with those of communities subject to surveillance.



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