The Lakeview Crime Prevention District (LCPD) is a security district in New Orleans covering roughly 6,900 parcels of property that is currently gripping with the question of whether to create a live-monitored crime camera system. In theory this would increase the number of crimes in the area that lead to an arrest and deter future criminals.A review of the available data, however, shows a 24-hour live-monitored crime camera system is unlikely to be effective in deterring crime in the LCPD due primarily to the district’s size and relative low levels of crime. Crime cameras can be an important crime fighting tool, and the purpose of this assessment is not to analyze the usefulness of cameras as a whole. Rather this assessment focuses on the types of crimes committed in Lakeview and evaluates the long odds real-time monitored cameras face when trying to stop criminals there.
According to a recent statement by the LCPD president, LCPD received bids for an extensive live-monitored with costs ranging from $130,000 to over $300,000 in the first year. The LCPD is pursuing a more modest proposal to place cameras with “real time monitoring of key locations” at lower cost.
Crime in the LCPD
The LCPD covers a large geographic area that has relatively little crime. There have been 170 Uniform Crime Report Part I crimes in Lakeview in 2016 as of September 8th according to the LCPD website with 94 percent being property crimes (theft, auto theft and burglary). About half of those crimes in 2016 have been vehicle burglary with the full breakdown as of early September provided in the below table.
|Crime Type||2016 Crimes||Percent|
The LCPD is responsible for an area that runs roughly 3.4 miles north-south and 2.2 miles east-west. That’s a large area and crime in the district is fairly well diffused within the LCPD’s boundaries. The below map estimates where UCR Part I crimes within LCPD have taken place in 2016 using the City of New Orleans’ Calls for Service database.
Crime is fairly randomly distributed throughout the LCPD area. Part I crimes are mainly committed away from the district’s major streets which speaks to the residential nature of both the LCPD and the crime committed there.
Challenges to Live Monitoring
The goal of a crime camera system is to deter criminals by increasing the odds in their minds that they will be caught. Live-monitoring ups the ante by, theoretically, increasing the chances a criminal will be caught in the act. Achieving these goals will be difficult, however, given constraints brought about by the size of LCPD and relative low level of crime.
Less than one UCR Part I crime occurs per day in the area covered by LCPD, and a live-monitored camera system is unlikely to spot those crimes when they occur because of the area the system must cover. A 2012 paper by Eric Piza on a surveillance system in a relatively high crime area of Newark found that 73.5 percent of cameras generated five detections or less over the course of a year and 92.3 percent generated five enforcement actions or less.
Newark’s crime camera system was implemented in an area with much higher levels of crime than in Lakeview, suggesting crime cameras in Lakeview are more likely to have even lower detection levels than those in Newark. In addition, Piza’s research found auto theft to be the only crime that is consistently susceptible to surveillance cameras. Lakeview has had only 13 auto thefts in 2016 meaning crime cameras would only be able to deter a handful of auto thefts even if they were fully effective.
Another constraint to deterring crime in LCPD is that the types of crimes the district is seeking to deter are among the most difficult crimes to solve. Theft, burglary and auto theft account for 94 percent of crime in LCPD, but those types of crimes are rarely solved by law enforcement. According to the FBI, cities the size of New Orleans solved only 19 percent of thefts, 11 percent of burglaries and 9 percent of auto thefts in 2014.
A final challenge to effective live-monitoring is the high ratio of cameras to monitoring operators. Even if a crime occurs near a live-monitored crime camera, there is no guarantee that it will be observed as there will almost certainly be many more cameras to monitor than operators to monitor them. A 2012 article by Eric L. Piza, Joel M. Caplan & Leslie W. Kennedy in Justice Quarterly found that “detection of criminal events by CCTV operators is rare.” Among the cases Piza, Caplan and Kennedy surveyed:
- Surveillance operator activity in two Scottish cities led to one arrest per 967 hours of monitoring.
- A London surveillance monitoring unit provided police with crime footage 8 times over the course of a year.
- In one case, 592 hours of general surveillance monitoring led to only 888 documented surveillance targets (1.5 targets per hour) where the operator observed an individual or group for more than one minute.
- Another case found operator-generated surveillance occurring once every four hours across four surveillance systems in Britain.
Lakeview has a relatively low level of crime to begin with, and the odds of detecting crimes as they take place even under the best of conditions are not great. In Lakeview, where crime is low and dispersed, the odds of actually detecting crimes seem very low.
Live-monitoring also brings the added cost of reducing the effectiveness of patrol by requiring LCPD to dedicate patrol resources and personnel to monitoring. With all that in mind it makes sense to question whether the considerable annual expenditures to set up and run such a system are worth the limited potential gains given the constraints to success and low baseline level of crime. The neighborhood’s partnership with Project NOLA and their crime monitoring capabilities seems like a sensible compromise to neighborhood-driven crime monitoring.