Do Security Cameras Deter Crime?

By
&
Aliza Vigderman
Gabe TurnerChief Editor
Last Updated on Jul 26, 2021
By Aliza Vigderman & Gabe Turner on Jul 26, 2021

At Security.org, we’ve tested out dozens of different home security cameras to see how well they work. However, many people aren’t convinced that security cameras can actually deter crime. If you’re one of these skeptics, we understand, which is why we did research on academic studies surrounding the effectiveness of home security cameras. Let’s get into it.

Lorex Camera on Box
Lorex Camera on Box

Do Security Cameras Deter Crime?

While it’s clear that security cameras can’t deter 100 percent of crime, in general, most academic studies have found them to reduce and deter crime overall. Still, we’ll get into both sides of the issue using data from the top criminology research centers around the world.

Do Security Cameras Deter Crime

The Case For Cameras

  • KTVB7: A local television station in Oregon called KTVB7 interviewed 86 inmates serving time for burglary at the Oregon Department of Corrections. Asking them about their break-ins, they found that most inmates would leave immediately if a security alarm went off. And in general, security cameras were a deterrent to breaking into a home, although a minority admitted that they would actually indicate more valuables and encourage crime.1
  • Municipal Technical Advisory Service: A comprehensive look at multiple academic studies found that yes, CCTV cameras are effective in deterring crime. However, they’re more effective when paired with other elements like lighting2 (we’ll talk more about how to boost the effectiveness of your security cameras in a bit).
  • UNC Department of Criminal Justice & Criminology: Surveying 422 burglars across North Carolina, Ohio and Kentucky, the University of North Carolina’s Department of Criminal Justice & Criminology found that most burglars considered outdoor cameras and other surveillance signs and equipment when choosing which homes to burgle. 60 percent of burglars said that if they found an alarm, they’d choose another target, and half said they’ leave immediately if they found an alarm during the burglary.3
Deterrence Measure Effectiveness Overall % (rounded to nearest whole number)
Police nearby 64%
Indications of alarms 53%
Outdoor cameras 50%
Outdoor lighting 16%
Neighborhood watch 13%
Security sign 25%
  • Rutgers University School of Criminal Justice: A study of the nearby city Newark, New Jersey showed that residential burglar alarm systems decrease crime at homes and in the city overall. While many people believe that security cameras merely displace crime to other houses, the Rutgers study showed that they make entire neighborhoods safer. “Neighborhoods in which burglar alarms were densely installed have fewer incidents of residential burglaries than the neighborhoods with fewer burglar alarms,” said the study.4
  • FBI Uniform Crime Reporting: Another myth about security cameras is that even if they do deter crime, their prices still don’t make them worth it. However, the most affordable security cameras can cost as little as $20 like the Wyze Cam V2, and considering the fact that the average dollar loss per burglary was $2,416 in 2017 according to FBI data,5 these cameras can pay for themselves tenfold.
  • Urban Institute: Finally, a study from the Urban Institute placed cameras in Baltimore, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. In downtown Baltimore specifically, the 500 cameras led to a huge reduction in crime by an average of 30 incidents per month, with no evidence of displacement. Similarly, the more than 8,000 cameras installed throughout Chicago were responsible for almost a 12 percent estimated reduction in crime.6 However, not all of the data was this positive, which brings us to our next point…
ReoLink Go
ReoLink Go

The Case Against Cameras

  • Queen’s University: While functioning security cameras have been proven to deter crime, that’s only the case when they function correctly. Looking at camera systems from 2001 to 2003, the Queen’s University Surveillance Studies Centre found 168 technical failures preventing evidence from being used in criminal trials.7 Of course, smart home technology has greatly improved since 2003, although of course, technical failures can still occur.
  • Lincoln Police Department: Not all security cameras have been shown to deter crime. For example, cameras placed in a downtown bar street in Lincoln, Nebraska didn’t help any police officers identify criminals, bolster their evidence or prevent crimes from happening. In fact, while the cameras were up and running, there were 128 assaults within 500 feet,8 so the cameras didn’t do anything to deter crime in this case.
  • Urban Institute: Even though there was crime deterrence in downtown Baltimore and in Chicago, the Urban Institute found that surveillance systems have their limitations. Whether it’s panning at the wrong time, failing to capture events in their entirety or losing a clear picture at night or in bad weather, security cameras aren’t foolproof. Plus, they didn’t affect crime rates in D.C or in other areas of Baltimore, so the study was mixed despite being positive overall.
Ring Spotlight Cam Battery With Light On
Ring Spotlight Cam Battery With Light On

Do Security Signs Deter Burglars?

Another option many people consider is to put up security signs, be them real or fake, to deter burglars. While they’re certainly not as effective as security cameras or alarms, security signs can deter some burglars, about 25 percent according to the UNC study. The KTVB7 survey also found mixed results regarding security signs as a crime deterrent; while signs didn’t faze some burglars, some took them as a sign to move on. All in all, security signs are inexpensive and it’s unlikely that they’ll encourage crime, so there’s no harm in placing one on your front lawn.

Nest Cam IQ Outdoor
Nest Cam IQ Outdoor

Should You Hide Your Security Camera?

When you think of security cameras, you may think of cameras covered behind trees, disguised as rocks or otherwise hidden from view. However, many studies have shown that burglars that see homes with security cameras are less likely to choose those homes to burgle, so having hidden cameras defeats this purpose. Keep your outdoor cameras visible so that they can prevent crime from taking place rather than just capturing it passively.

Vivint Outdoor Camera Pro
Vivint Outdoor Camera Pro

Pro Tip: Make sure that your security cameras are visible so that they can deter burglars from choosing your home to burgle.

How To Boost the Effectiveness of Security Cameras

Once you’ve placed your security cameras both inside and outside of your home, there are a few other steps you can take to deter crime even more. How To Boost the Effectiveness of Security Cameras

Boost Security Cameras Effectiveness

  1. Signs and systems: Just as two heads are better than one, a complete security system with visible signs and alarms is better than just security cameras.
  2. Visibility: While we don’t want to sound like a broken record, make sure that these security elements are visible to potential burglars, alerting them that your house isn’t worth the risk.
  3. Lights: Outdoor lighting, particularly motion-activated lighting, can literally shine a spotlight on criminals, increasing their visibility. Many cameras like the Ring Spotlight Cam Battery have spotlights built-in. This is a form of active deterrence, which means built-in audio and visual warnings from cameras.
  4. Sirens and voices: Other forms of active deterrence include cameras with built-in sirens and speakers. The Vivint Outdoor Camera Pro, for example, has a form of AI called Smart Sentry. In a nutshell, if anyone is loitering, it will turn on LED lights and play a tune. Similarly, the Deep Sentinel cameras have 104-decibel sirens, about as loud as a table saw, that can sound whenever the Live Sentinel Guards see fit. Throw in some strobing red and white lights and the criminal is sure to be, well, actively deterred.
  5. Night vision: Good night vision is imperative with security cameras. If they lack lights that enable color night vision, the security cameras should have infrared LED sensors to create a clear picture in the dark. Learn more about the best infrared cameras that we’ve tested.
  6. Durability: Last but certainly not least, look for a camera that can withstand the weather conditions in your area, checking for its temperature range along with its IP rating.
Blue by ADT Outdoor Camera Night Vision
Blue by ADT Outdoor Camera Night Vision

FYI: IP ratings measure how susceptible an object is to both solids and liquids. Look for a security camera with an IP rating of at least 65, meaning it’s dust-tight and resistant to low-pressure water jets.

Recap

While there is some evidence to the contrary, in general, studies suggest that security cameras can deter crime, even without displacing it elsewhere. Of course, it’s important to get high-quality security cameras that can shoot clear footage in any time of day or weather condition, so remember: your security is only as good as your security cameras.

Deep Sentinel Camera Outside
Deep Sentinel Camera Outside

Frequently Asked Questions

We’re not done yet! Here are the questions we get the most often about how security cameras, and other security elements, deter crime.

  • Do security signs deter crime?

    Security signs do deter crime. In a study from the University of North Carolina, 25 percent of burglars said that security signs would deter them from choosing a house. However, signs are a less effective deterrent than security cameras and systems, which would deter 53 percent of burglars.

  • How do burglars choose houses?

    Burglars choose houses based on a number of factors such as the presence of:

    • Cars in the driveway, especially if they’re luxury
    • Big fences
    • Overgrown bushes or trees
    • Old or cheap window frames and doors.

    They also consider the proximity to other homes, preferring more isolated homes to burgle. This data comes from a survey of 86 inmates for burglary at the Oregon Department of Corrections from local television station KTVB7.

  • Do CCTV cameras deter crime?

    Research from the University of North Carolina, Rutgers University, and the Urban Institute have found that CCTV cameras do deter crime.

  • Are cameras a good crime deterrent?

    Cameras are a good crime deterrent, as 60 percent of most burglars will choose another target if they find alarms or cameras, according to a study from the University of North Carolina’s Department of Criminal Justice & Criminology.

Citations
  1. KTVB7. (2019). We asked 86 burglars how they broke into homes.
    ktvb.com/article/news/crime/we-asked-86-burglars-how-they-broke-into-homes/277-344333696

  2. University of Tennessee. (2016). Is There Empirical Evidence That Surveillance Cameras Reduce Crime?
    mtas.tennessee.edu/knowledgebase/there-empirical-evidence-surveillance-cameras-reduce-crime

  3. Research Gate. (2012). Understanding Decisions to Burglarize from the Offender's Perspective.
    researchgate.net/publication/268444817_Understanding_Decisions_to_Burglarize_from_the_Offender%27s_Perspective

  4. Rutgers University. (2009). Rutgers Study Finds Alarm Systems Are Valuable Crime Fighting Tool.
    rutgers.edu/news/rutgers-study-finds-alarm-systems-are-valuable-crime-fighting-tool

  5. FBI. (2017). Burglary.
    ucr.fbi.gov/crime-in-the-u.s/2017/crime-in-the-u.s.-2017/topic-pages/burglary

  6. Urban Institute. (2021). Evaluating the Use of Public Surveillance Cameras for Crime Control and Prevention—A Summary.
    urban.org/sites/default/files/publication/27546/412401-Evaluating-the-Use-of-Public-Surveillance-Cameras-for-Crime-Control-and-Prevention-A-Summary.PDF

  7. Surveillance Studies Centre. (2017). FAQs.
    sscqueens.org/projects/scan/faqs#four

  8. Journal Star. (2015). Police cameras generate little in first year.
    journalstar.com/news/local/crime-and-courts/police-cameras-generate-little-in-first-year/article_0bce1c3a-b1f2-5f6f-a4e9-f63a426d8968.html