Private Security and Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV) Surveillance: A Systematic Review of Function and Performance

Published date01 February 2020
Date01 February 2020
Subject MatterArticles
/tmp/tmp-17fbFFlvpifu1J/input 890192CCJXXX10.1177/1043986219890192Journal of Contemporary Criminal JusticeWelsh et al.
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice
2020, Vol. 36(1) 56 –69
Private Security and Closed-
© The Author(s) 2019
Article reuse guidelines:
Circuit Television (CCTV)
DOI: 10.1177/1043986219890192
Surveillance: A Systematic
Review of Function and
Brandon C. Welsh1, Eric L. Piza2,
Amanda L. Thomas2, and David P. Farrington3
Private security personnel play an important but largely overlooked role in the
operation of closed-circuit television (CCTV) surveillance to prevent crime in public
and private areas. This role can take a number of forms, including active monitoring of
cameras. Drawing upon a global database of CCTV evaluations (N = 165), this article
examines the function and performance of private security personnel as related to
the effectiveness of CCTV. Findings indicate that CCTV schemes operated by private
security personnel generated larger crime prevention effects than those operated
by police or those using a mix of police and security personnel. Policy and research
implications are discussed.
private security, CCTV, surveillance, crime prevention, systematic review
Closed-circuit television (CCTV) surveillance cameras occupy a central role in con-
temporary policing and crime prevention (Goold, 2004; Weisburd & Majmundar,
2018; Welsh & Farrington, 2009). As the practical application of CCTV has increased
1Northeastern University, Boston, MA, USA
2John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York, New York City, NY, USA
3University of Cambridge, UK
Corresponding Author:
Brandon C. Welsh, School of Criminology and Criminal Justice and Director, Cambridge-Somerville
Youth Study, Northeastern University, Boston, MA 02115, USA.

Welsh et al.
in recent years, so has the evidence base on its crime prevention effect in public and
private space. The cumulative evidence demonstrates that CCTV surveillance is asso-
ciated with a significant yet modest reduction in crime. However, effects vary across a
range of contextual factors, including geographical setting (e.g., city and town centers,
car parks), crime type, camera monitoring strategy, use of complementary interven-
tions, and country of origin (Piza et al., 2019).
Private security personnel play an important but largely overlooked role in the
operation of CCTV surveillance to prevent crime in public and private areas. This role
can take a number of forms, including on-site active monitoring of cameras and on the
ground responses to crimes in progress captured on cameras (e.g., Gill & Spriggs,
2005; Waszkiewicz, 2013).
In general, research on private security personnel in the context of CCTV surveil-
lance has focused on the operations of those who monitor the cameras, sometimes
known as the “watchers,” as well as on security guards working alongside or as a
complementary intervention to CCTV. Research on both fronts is limited, and neither
has attempted to investigate the relative effectiveness of CCTV systems monitored by
private security personnel or police. In the case of the latter research focus, this is
distinguished from security personnel (i.e., security guards) serving as the primary
intervention to prevent crime (see Welsh et al., 2010), and is really a matter of security
guards exercising a formal surveillance function (Cornish & Clarke, 2003) and serving
as a secondary or additional intervention to CCTV cameras. Unfortunately, too few
examples of this preclude an analysis of security guards as a moderating variable of
the effects of CCTV on crime (Piza et al., 2019). With respect to the other area, some
qualitative research has examined the day-to-day operations of those who monitor the
cameras, with some distinction among the different parties involved: private security,
police, local government staff, or volunteers (Gill & Spriggs, 2005; Wilson, 2005).
The main aim of this article is to examine the function and performance of private
security personnel as related to the effectiveness of CCTV surveillance. The chief
question of interest is as follows: How effective is CCTV surveillance in preventing
crime when it is operated by security personnel compared with other parties? Using
systematic review methods and incorporating meta-analytic techniques, the article
draws upon a recently updated database of CCTV evaluations (N = 165), covering 40
years of research (1978–2018) and drawn from the United States, United Kingdom,
Sweden, Canada, South Korea, and other industrialized countries.
The primary list of studies was compiled by Piza et al. (2019) as part of their updated
systematic review and meta-analysis of the effects of CCTV on crime. Studies were
identified and located following a comprehensive set of search strategies, and studies
were included in the systematic review if they met the following criteria: (a) CCTV
was the main focus of the intervention; (b) the evaluation used an outcome measure of
crime; (c) the research design involved, at minimum, before and after measures of
crime in treatment and comparable control areas; and (d) both the treatment and

Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 36(1)
control areas experienced at least 20 crimes during the pre-intervention period.
Building upon the prior systematic review conducted by Welsh and Farrington (2009),
Piza et al. (2019) amassed a database of 161 CCTV studies (80 included and 81
excluded). In line with the scope of the present review, four additional studies were
eligible for consideration, bringing the total number of CCTV studies to 165 (84
included and 81 excluded; see Appendix for all included studies). Of the 84 included
studies, 76 could be used in the meta-analysis. Four did not provide the requisite data
for an effect size to be calculated. The other four did not provide enough detailed
information about the nature of the CCTV operation to allow for coding of the scheme
operation variable (i.e., police, mixed-police, or security).
“Scheme operation” is the primary variable of interest in the present review. We
reviewed each study to determine the personnel primarily in charge of carrying out
surveillance functions and notifying the appropriate parties when an offense was
observed on camera. CCTV schemes that exclusively incorporated sworn police offi-
cers in the surveillance function were coded as “police.” Thirty-seven studies fit this
criterion. Twelve studies reported on schemes incorporating both police officers and
civilian security personnel in the surveillance operation. These evaluations were coded
as “mixed-police.” Twenty-seven studies reported that civilian security personnel
were solely involved in surveillance functions, and were coded as “security.” Given
the scope of this review, we pay particular attention to the effect of security schemes
as compared with that of the police and mixed-police schemes. Authors of the primary
studies were contacted via email when a determination could not be made from the
study text.
It should be noted that we were unable to distinguish the nature of civilian security
personnel used in the CCTV schemes beyond our typology: security, police, and
mixed-police. This was owing to a general lack of detail reported in the studies. The
majority of studies reported the use of police and/or civilian operators without discuss-
ing a number of related processes, such as the nature of operator training, the policies
guiding monitoring practices, and whether civilian security...

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