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.

3. Research Design and Methods

3.1 Research design

This study provides an in-depth, mixed-methods account of the contemporary landscape of the provision, use, and impacts of public space CCTV in a number of geographic areas of Scotland. It gathered evidence over nine months from urban, town, and rural contexts within Scotland.

The study aimed to:

  • Gain an understanding of how public space CCTV is used within Scotland across different urban, town, and rural locations at the local authority level allowing for a comparison with other relevant countries with different delivery systems and governance arrangements.
  • Assess the impact and effectiveness of public space CCTV throughout Scotland both quantitatively and qualitatively, through mapping the provision and implementation of CCTV and collating the perspectives of local people and key stakeholders who use community public spaces under surveillance.

The study involved a three-stage research design aligned to these research questions, including: (1) online surveys; (2) qualitative interviews; and (3) a comparative analysis. In order to understand the range of geographical diversity in the operation of public space CCTV in Scotland, the qualitative aspect of the study adopted a sampling strategy that incorporated the inclusion of urban, town and rural locations, drawing on the Scottish Government 6-Fold Urban Rural Classification (Scottish Government, 2022).

This study underwent a formal ethical review by the University of Glasgow’s College of Social Science Ethics Committee and was also subject to Ethical Review by the Scottish Government. Participants in the study represented a non-random, self-selecting sample. As such, their responses to both survey and interview should be approached as a wide-ranging expert opinion, rather than representative of the wider population or organisation from which they are drawn. In the subsequent reporting, reference to ‘Scotland’ corresponds to the geographic areas which participated in the research.

Stage 1: Online surveying of Scottish Local Authorities and Police Scotland

The first stage of the study involved creating a baseline dataset of public space CCTV in Scotland mapping the provision, use, costs, local implementation strategies, uses of footage, and frequency of maintenance of CCTV equipment through a survey of local authorities and police divisions.

The survey was delivered online via email link to all 32 local authorities in Scotland and 13 Police Scotland divisions. Survey responses were gathered between December 2022 and February 2023.

The survey was designed after reviewing similar survey tools from Scotland and the wider UK, namely a survey carried out by the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research in 2009 (Bannister et al., 2009), as well as a survey carried out by the Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner in 2022 (Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner, 2022). The survey was designed by the research team with input from the Research Advisory Group (RAG) which included representatives from Police Scotland, Scottish Community Safety Network and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities.

Questions in both surveys covered seven areas:

  • General CCTV provision
  • Equipment and maintenance
  • Monitoring and footage
  • Purpose
  • Evaluating impact, effectiveness and benefits
  • Funding
  • Reflections and future visions

Survey results were exported into Microsoft Excel for descriptive statistical analysis and open-ended responses were analysed thematically.

Stage 2: Qualitative interviews

In the second stage of the study (January-February 2023), we conducted qualitative interviews with a range of stakeholders involved in or impacted by public space CCTV including local authority employees, CCTV operators, police officers, and local residents, in order to better understand community-based perspectives towards the provision, use, and impact of public space CCTV.

Twenty-six interview participants took part in this stage of the research. A total of 13 interviews were conducted and these included ‘walking’ interviews, sit-down interviews, and online interviews conducted with both individuals and groups. Table 1. below details the ways in which these interviews were carried out with participants.

Table 1. Qualitative interview formats
Sit-down, face-to-face interviews Walking interviews Sit-down, online interviews
Interview type 1-on-1 Group 1-on-1 Group 1-on-1 Group
Number of interviews 3 1 2 1 4 2
Number of participants 5 5 16

Offering participants different interview formats/options enabled the research team to widen access and participation opportunities.

‘Walking interviews’ (n=3) are mobile, participant-led interviews that include the sensory experience of moving through a public space to provide environmental and locational contexts to how participants reflect on the use and impact of CCTV in public spaces (Evans and Jones, 2011). Walking interviews were conducted with five participants including police officers and CCTV operators who provided a walk-through of the areas where they have worked or patrolled. This included a pair of police officers who were on shift together, as well as the CCTV operator who worked alongside them. Sit-down interviews (n=4) were conducted in CCTV operation rooms, police interview rooms, and other office spaces with 5 participants; one of these sit-down interviews was a group interview with a police officer and CCTV operator who frequently worked together.

Online interviews (n=6) were conducted with a total of 16 police officers, local government employees, CCTV operators, and residents. The total number included two large group interviews – one with seven local government employees and CCTV operators from a particular local authority area, and another with five local residents of a particular area. These were conducted opportunistically and organically. Holding group interviews enabled the research team to engage with several participants (who already knew and were comfortable with one another) at once, and was thus an appropriate and practical approach in this context. Group interviews (see Frey and Fontana, 1991) can also provide collective understandings on topics, and though this can sometimes lead to “pressure to conformity” (1991: 185), the two group interviews conducted in this project involved a diverse range of views.

Interviews involved a cross-section of respondents from a range of geographical regions in Scotland, including urban, town and rural contexts. Table 2. below details the geographical distribution of participants based on whether they worked (police, local government employees, CCTV operators) and/or lived (residents) in urban, town, or rural areas, recognising that some people participated in the study in a professional capacity and others in a personal capacity.

Table 2. Area classification and distribution of interview participants
Area classification Urban Town Rural
Number of participants 7 16 3

We conducted qualitative interviews that were customised according to the capacity in which interviewees were participating. The interviews covered their perceptions on the use, impact, and effectiveness of CCTV in their lives or work, as well as their experiences with CCTV and their views on safety and security. We obtained the participants' permission to record the interviews on a handheld device, which we later transcribed and anonymised. Our research team analysed the interview transcripts thematically. To protect the participants' anonymity and privacy, we removed their names and specific locations from the report, replacing names with anonymised terms such as CCTV Operator 1; Police Supt. 2; Resident 5; and Region 4 and referring to locations/geographical areas using broad terms, such as urban, town, or rural classifications.

Stage 3: Comparative analysis

To better understand the current situation and learning opportunities for CCTV in Scotland, the study incorporated a comparative component that examined the major themes from the study in two comparable jurisdictions: England and Wales; and Denmark. England and Wales was selected due to its political and jurisdictional similarity, and Denmark because of its similar population size but different approach to CCTV.

Comparisons were made between Scotland and these jurisdictions in terms of public space CCTV policy, legislation, and contemporary debates and developments. Comparing Scottish provision with that of England and Wales allowed us to explore where legislation overlaps and differs in terms of national and devolved policy. Analytical comparisons with Denmark are strategically relevant as its geographical size and total population are comparable to Scotland, yet, Denmark’s public space CCTV landscape provides a contrast to Scotland’s in terms of the balance in public and private ownership of CCTV systems.

3.2 Conclusion

The mixed methods approach taken in this study provided a range of evidence on the topic under consideration. The combination of quantitative and qualitative data gathered in this project provides up-to-date information on public space CCTV provision in Scotland and offers insights into its impact from the perspective of experts working in the field, as well as from local communities. The addition of national and international comparison further enhance the findings of this study as they offer important insights into understanding how Scotland runs parallel to or diverges from developments elsewhere.



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