Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The eyes have it

Camera-based surveillance systems have definitely played an important role in helping to keep crime down. With the knowledge that their activities will be captured on cameras, members of the criminal fraternity have been dissuaded from committing felonious acts in the community.

But while such systems are undoubtedly effective, they do cost money to commission and maintain. And that's cash that many hard-up communities may be loathed to part with in these financially challenging times.

So could there be a cheaper way to reduce crime without the use of such cameras? Well, apparently, yes, there is. Researchers at Newcastle University (Newcastle, UK) have now discovered that bicycle theft, for example, can be significantly reduced simply by placing pictures of staring eyes above bike racks.

In a two year experiment on the university campus, the academics showed that the eye  pictures -- which were combined with a short anti-theft message -- reduced thefts from the bike racks by 62 per cent.

Newcastle University's Professor Daniel Nettle said that the images of eyes could act to dissuade crime by making people feel that they are being observed -- in a similar way to surveillance cameras -- and as a result behave in a more honest fashion.

That, of course, is the good news. The bad news is that there was also a noticeable difference in crime in places without the signs, where bike theft went up by 63 per cent, suggesting that the crime had been displaced to other locations, rather than eliminated.

Despite that fact, the British Transport Police are now trialing the idea with train Company C2C on a route between Fenchurch Street Station in London and Southend in Essex.

While the idea undoubtedly has its merits, I'd like to think that a more comprehensive solution to the bike theft issue might be to install a couple of surveillance cameras behind the pictures of the staring eyes.

Although my belt-and-braces idea might cost a few more shillings to implement, the combination of the eye pictures and the vision-based solution would not only lead to an even greater reduction in bicycle thefts, but also provide the police with detailed images of those still intent on a life of crime.

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