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Argument: Crime cameras cannot deter criminals that do not fear the law

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Theodore Dalrymple. "Cameras, Crooks, and Deterrence". City Journal. October 16, 2007 - A recent study demonstrating this failure to improve the clear-up rate, however, could not also show that the cameras failed to deter crime in the first place. Common sense suggests that they should deter, but common sense might be wrong. For if the punishment of detected crime is insufficient to deter, there is no reason why the presence of cameras should deter.

It is a matter of observation, however, that speed cameras on our roads cause most drivers to slow down. The reason is clear: if drivers are photographed speeding, they likely will receive fines and, if caught repeatedly, lose their licenses. For most people, such an outcome would be, if not a catastrophe, at least a severe inconvenience. Getting caught is not in itself sufficient to deter: for example, receiving an admonishing letter, evoking the driver’s moral responsibility to respect speed limits, would almost certainly have no effect upon his subsequent behavior behind the wheel. A serious penalty if caught is necessary for effective deterrence.

The drivers whom speed cameras do not deter are those driving illegally in any case. Not only are they harder to trace than people driving legally—they are, after all, usually driving in borrowed or stolen cars—but they have no licenses to lose, and probably no legal income with which to pay fines. If caught two or three times, they may go to prison for a couple of weeks, true. But the low risk of getting caught a sufficient number of times, combined with the mildness of the penalty if they are, makes illegal driving worthwhile for them.

The problem with the criminal law in Britain today is that it neither incapacitates criminals nor deters those inclined, for whatever reason, to break the law. The crime-inclined are probably more numerous than ever before, which makes leniency doubly disastrous. The huge number of CCTV cameras in Britain—perhaps as many as a third of all such cameras in the world—is an official response to the increased lawlessness of the population. But as with so much official activity in Britain, it achieves nothing. It is para-detection and para-deterrence rather than real detection and real deterrence.

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