“I think everything should be CCTV,” he says. “I’ve got two daughters. I want them to be monitored when they’re out in the streets. And I want criminals to know that they’re being monitored when they’re out in the streets”.
After the recent high-profile Jill Meagher incident, Melbourne Lord Mayor Robert Doyle committed another 10 CCTV cameras valued at $30,000 each around Melbourne, while Federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has pledged a further $50 million if a Coalition government is elected.
The rape and murder of Ms Meagher, a 29-year-old ABC employee from Ireland, sent a tremor of outrage through Melbourne and forced young girls to face the uncomfortable reality that it easily could have happened to them.
But Victoria’s crime rates are hardly suggested by cases of this calibre, which only cause this much of a stir once every few years. And nor were the statistics suggested by the lack of people that came into the small, double-storey house in Fitzroy that is the headquarters for Victims of Crime, an organisation that provides compensation and counselling for people undergoing post-assault trauma. Domenic Greco is a private psychologist who works with victims, and says that most people don’t know they’re entitled to compensation.
“You’ve got to look at it like an insurance scheme,” he says. “You’re entitled to it. Just like your house being burgled, [or your] car being stolen or damaged… it’s your right as insurance payer”.
If crime compensation is an insurance scheme, then the popular consensus on CCTV cameras appears to be that they’re an assurance scheme; that is, that they’re an assurance against crime. This is reflected in an online survey in which 68 per cent of people supported the notion of having more CCTV in Melbourne, with the most common reasons reflecting personal safety ideals.
According to the Victoria Police Crime Statistics official release, last financial year there were 54,454 crimes which fell under the category ‘crime against the person’. Any percentage increase over the last decade is relative to the 15 percent growth in population, but this could hardly have a major impact on what the release suggests to be 52.4 per cent rise in assaults. Mr Greco is quick to point out that this doesn’t capture the full picture.
“I would… say that only half of the crimes, if that, get reported,” he says. The Australian Bureau of Statistics’ 2008-2009 national crime victimisation survey suggests that he could be right; with only 49.8 per cent of physical assaults in Victoria reported in that period.
But if CCTV was introduced to Melbourne 15 years ago, what does this say about its effectiveness? For Mr Greco, the assurance lies with the notion that the more cameras we have, the less criminals get off scot-free. He says that those who argue that cameras don’t deter crime are probably right, but that the real utility of the technology lies in the prosecution and criminal process, which he says is a “disgrace” and timely and ineffective in dealing with criminal matters.
“Our courts are clogged,” he says. “It takes years to get a matter through. Why is that the case? We have to provide justice which means you can plead not guilty.
“If I put you on CCTV stabbing someone, it’s less likely you’re going to plead not guilty”. This, he says, creates a “streamline” in the system. “There’s those people that say it doesn’t prevent crime… it doesn’t that’s not the issue. But it certainly speeds up the prosecution process and makes it a lot more cost efficient”.
Mr Greco sees more CCTV as a step in the right direction, but for the 32 per cent of people reflected in the survey as opposed to the idea, either the Orwellian-police-state alarm bells are ringing, or they believe them to be a waste of taxpayer’s money.
Dr James Martin, Associate Lecturer in the Department of Criminology at Monash University spent 300 hours in CCTV control rooms in Victoria, Queensland and New South Wales and says the technology has limitations.
“I thought the biggest urban ones were the most problematic,” he says. You’ve got the least value for money.
“Unless it’s really location specific… it’s likely to displace crime rather than prevent it.
“We often see CCTV solving crimes, and there’s a really important reason for that… we only get footage of the crimes they solve”.
Popular opinion towards the best ways of preventing crime, then, is largely based on what is presented in the media. People see that CCTV played a part in identifying Jill Meagher, so it becomes an “attractive proposition,” argues Martin. “We like to think our problems would be that easy to solve. Of course if they were that easy to solve, we would’ve figured this out a long time ago”.
Associate Professor Dr Robert Sparrow of the School of Philosophical, Historical and International Studies at Monash University reiterates this notion, saying that the installation of more cameras around Melbourne is “a knee-jerk response to the horror of the abduction and killing of Jill Meagher”.
He says that populist outcries of this sort get in the way of meaningful solutions like intervening in anti-social behaviour in early childhood or changing cultural attitudes that glorify violence and objectify women.
“We need to look towards a culture that doesn’t present women as sexual objects to be possessed,” he says.
He also fears for the privacy of citizens, saying that the introduction of more cameras is “likely to involve greater levels of infringement of our civil liberties and in particular our right to privacy”.
I don’t think we should treat every civilian as a potential criminal by attempting to place them under continuous surveillance,” he says.
Mr Greco disagrees. “What privacy?” he asks. “It’s a public domain, a public street. There’s no privacy…I think any [privacy] argument is a not-sensible argument made by people who haven’t been through crime and don’t understand [its] consequences,” he argues.
CCTV cameras were introduced in Melbourne in 1997 under the Safe City Camera Program. 53 cameras were placed in areas with a history of high levels of crime. The Safe City Cameras Audit Committee – which is external to the program – was created along with it, and conducts yearly audits to ensure that the privacy of individuals is protected and that cameras are used properly. While this may ease the doubts of minor CCTV sceptics, many will still worry about ‘the man behind the curtain’.
If there’s one thing that supporters and sceptics of CCTV have in common, it’s anxiety towards the evolution of social media, in particular Facebook. Currently, Facebook stores its user’s entire histories. Some of this is available through personal download under the ‘Account Settings’ section, but a range of other information is kept without consultation with the user, like credit card details if purchases have been made, every event attended by the user and how they responded, every photo the user has ever appeared in and every location the user has ever made a status from.
Mr Greco sees Facebook and other forms of social media as more threatening than CCTV and says that anyone worried about their privacy shouldn’t be using it.
“You’re being tracked everywhere you move,” he says. “Every message you make on your mobile phone, every time you make a credit card purchase you’ll be tracked… That’s invasive, but we don’t complain about [it]”.
A study cited by The Age showed that 61 per cent of Australians aged between 18 and 30 to measures to ensure their data was safe from online security breaches. Dr Martin attributes this to the privacy debate not having much resonance with people.
“The most common sentiment… you’d get,” he says, is that “if you’re not doing anything wrong, who cares?”
As time goes on, discussion about the Jill Meagher incident will no doubt gradually dwindle. In the meantime, more CCTV cameras will be installed around Melbourne. Time will tell if these measures will be effective or not, but for the sceptics, it’s hoped that popular engagement with the privacy question won’t dwindle as well.
“We refer to Orwellian states – what does that mean?” asks Domenic Greco. “Someone’s looking over our shoulders and protecting us. Fantastic! Some people think it’s God. For me it’s a closed-circuit T.V system.”
For victims of crime support and advice call 1800 000 055 or go to www.victimsofcrime.com.au