Measure type: Surveillance

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Surveillance is the measure of monitoring the behaviour, activities, or other changing information, usually of people for the purpose of influencing, managing, directing, or protecting.[1]

Monitoring of traffic is a related activity which can be used for general traffic management or incident management.


Surveillance is the first step in the reaction chain detection-perception-interpretation-formulating action-acting. The essence of surveillance lies in the detection of threats in the actual situation. This can be done in various ways:

  • by dedicated observers on location
  • remotely by dedicated observers
  • by the public


By dedicated observers on location

Police officer on surveillance

Observation of the situation by dedicated observers on location can be done either by observers that are incognito, or observers that are clearly distinguishable. Both strategies have their advantages:

  • observation by observers that are incognito can reveal the situation in its natural behaviour, undisturbed by the fact that it is observed. This can reveal behaviour (and its causes) that otherwise remain undetected.
  • observation by observers that are clearly distinguishable can convey the presence of authority and exert a mitigating effect on the behaviour of the observed.

Remotely by dedicated observers

Security cameras in the street

Monitoring with the help of cameras (CCTV) has become a common method throughout all Europe to combat crime and terrorism. In the UK more than 4 million cameras have been installed (The Associated Press, 2007).

By the public

Example of an Amber Alert SMS

This concerns involving (a select part of) the public in the detection of crime. This can both be facilitated by electronic means and more traditional means. Examples of both approaches can be found in:

  • The USA 'Eagle Eyes' initiative of the Air Force office of Special Investigation[2]
  • 'Veilige wijk' The Hague[3]
  • Amber alert[4]
  • Gulfport Alternative Policing strategy[5]


The effectiveness of surveillance against crime is rooted in three effects:

  • its contribution to the reaction chain
  • the mitigating effect of clearly visible observation/observants
  • the contribution it can have to the prosecution of crime (gathering evidence and leads)

Security issues where this measure can be effective and influenced by the urban planner, are:

Security issues
Financial gain Boredom or compulsive behaviour Impulse Conflict in beliefs
Burglary{{#info:Burglary is the crime of illicitly entering a building with the intent to commit an offence, particularly (but not limited to) theft.}} Physical assault{{#info:Assault, is a crime which involves causing a victim to fear or to experience any type of violence, except for sexual violence}} Destruction by riots{{#info:Destruction by riots is the act of vandalism of property by organised groups for a shared rational or rationalised reason.}} Mass killing{{#info:Mass killing is the crime of purposely causing harm or death to a group of (unknown) people in order to make a statement or to influence the public opinion. This threat is exerted out of wilful action by fanatics: terrorists or criminal activists.}}
Ram-raiding{{#info:Ram raid is a particular technique for burglars to gain access to primarily commercial premises, by means of driving -usually stolen- vehicles into locked or closed entrances, exits or windows.}} Sexual assault{{#info:Sexual assault is assault of a sexual nature on another person, or any sexual act committed without consent}} Destruction of property by fanatics{{#info:Destruction by fanatics is the crime of purposely causing damage in order to make a statement or to influence the public opinion.}}
Pickpocketing{{#info:Pickpocketing is a form of theft that involves the stealing of valuables from a victim without their noticing the theft at the time. }} Vandalism{{#info:Vandalism is the act of wilful or malicious destruction, injury, disfigurement, or defacement of property without the consent of the owner or person having custody or control.}}
Robbery{{#info:Robbery is the crime of taking or attempting to take something of value by force or threat of force or by putting the victim in fear. It is used her exclusively for acts committed to individual persons.}} Graffiti{{#info:Grafitti is the defacement of property by means of writing or drawings scribbled, scratched, or sprayed on a surface in a public place without the consent of the owner or person having custody or control. }}
Raid{{#info:Raid is the crime of taking or attempting to take something of value from a commercial venue by force or threat of force or by putting the victim in fear.}} Antisocial Behaviour{{#info:Antisocial behaviour is an accumulation category of relatively small crimes that highly influence the security perception of citizens. }}
Vehicle theft{{#info:Vehicle theft is the crime of theft, or attempt of theft of or from a motor vehicle (automobile, truck, bus, motorcycle, etc.).}}


General considerations

In order for surveillance to have the intended effects, it is essential that the reaction chain is unbroken. As often the links in the reaction chain are managed by different people or organisations, the communication in this chain is of vital essence.

For surveillance to be effective, an observer needs to be able to oversee an area. In an urban context, the extent to which an area can be overseen by an observer is highly dependent on

  • the available positions for the observer
  • the field of vision, which is directly related to the geometry of the space
  • the lighting conditions

Urban planning considerations

Natural surveillance in public spaces can be promoted through effective urban planning which provides for a diverse mix of land uses. Different types of users will be involved with different types of land use at different times of the day and night. A diverse mix of land uses therefore ensures that there will be a continuous presence of people in the environment throughout the day. This can help inhibit particular categories of crime which rely on areas to be deserted or sparsely populated at particular times of the day.

Safety/security considerations

Situational crime prevention measures such as camera surveillance are subject of displacement effects. A UK-study (2009)[6] empirically tested this thesis in the UK on 13 CCTV projects and concludes that spatial displacement of crime due to camera surveillance does occur, but not in a frequent and uniform way across space and types of offences[7]

Highly visible forms of surveillance can raise the prominence of an object, which can raise the attractiveness of the object for fanatics.

Social considerations

Social side effects of surveillance can be:

  • Increased perception of (un)safety by the public (some research suggests that measures such as video surveillance of public places reduces citizens' social fear of crime but increases their personal fear of crime (e.g.
  • Decreased perception of privacy by the public
  • Overconfidence
  • Reflective fear: the idea that (as some critics argue) information technology-based solutions to security problems (including the use of video surveillance) are not suited to confront threats but only to reassure the public that something is being done. This facilitates the rise of a security culture of moral panic as illustrated by the London bombings in 2005.[8]

In general, technology-based measures such as surveillance should consider that security mainly refers to the people and society, and that technical solutions are not effective without the acceptance and participation of the public. This acceptance is, among other things, rooted in security culture.

Practical addressing of social aspects and aspects of security culture in security-related urban planning can be best accomplished by appropriately involving citizens, based on a set of introduced methods of citizen participation as compiled by VITRUV. Ideally, planning for the measure of surveillance should include usability tests in relevant social contexts. Planning for Real and local open dialogue are examples of practical methods to use.

Economic considerations

Surveillance measures intend to increase the level of security, detecting security issues and mitigating the negative (economic) effects of security threats such as property crime, compulsive crime and violent conflicts. Considering the large amount of security issues that can effectively be influenced with the help of this measure, it is no wonder that surveillance is widely used by urban planners in all kinds of shapes and forms. And indeed, the economic benefits of crime detection and mitigation as a result of the use of e.g. surveillance measures do not just limit themselves to the prevention of material and immaterial damage, but also generate positive economic spin-off effects for the local and regional economy (indirect economic effects). After all, the increased perception of security positively influences the socio-economic composition of a community, generating all kinds of positive economic effects like an increase in investments, property value and tourist spendings.

Security measures, nevertheless, also require investment in capital, time and money exacting economic cost/impact. These cost contain the relatively straightforward direct expenditures such as investments in police officers, cameras in the street, public awareness programmes, etc., and in addition various types of secondary economic effects. CCTV cameras, for instance, are intended to detect security threats and increase the perception of security, but they can also (unintendedly) make people feel more aware of security threats, creating an 'unwelcoming feeling' with additional negative economic effects (comparable to the indirect effects of actual crime itself).

To find out if investing in surveillance makes sense from an economic point of view, one should first of all find out what type of surveillance will have the least negative economic effects in terms of permanent (maintenance) cost and secondary economic effects in comparison to the expected benefits (in terms of a reduction in crime and an increase in perceived security). Subsequently, one should compare these results with other types of security measures like intervention forces, ownership, deflection, etc. The final question to be answered is how stakeholders like citizens and business owners (but also the criminals and terrorists[9] will react to the envisioned surveillance measures. To illustrate these points, we added two case examples:

Case example: remote surveillance by dedicated observer

The current debate about CCTV (camera surveillance) with regards to its cost-effectiveness is pointing out the following topics:

  • Empirical research finds that the overall crime rates drop in the areas with CCTV, but not in all cases and situations[10]. Furthermore, crimes committed in the heat of the moment, such as assaults are in general not affected by the presence of cameras.
  • Total costs of CCTV far exceed that of the camera hardware alone[11].
  • To be effective, surveillance systems should be fully integrated into law enforcement practices.

Case example: dedicated surveillance on location

Stewart and Mueller (2008)[12] performed a cost-benefit analysis of the Federal Air Marshal Service and hardening cockpit doors as security measures against terrorist events like 9/11. They conclude that even if the Federal Air Marshal Service prevents one 9/11 replication each decade, the $900 million annual spending on Air Marshal Service fails a cost-benefit analysis at an annual estimated cost of $180 million per life saved (compared to a societal willingness to pay to save a life of $1 - $10 million per saved life). On the other hand, Stewart and Mueller [12] conclude that with $40 million per year, target hardening of cockpit doors is one of the most cost-effective security measures with an annual cost of $800,000 per life saved.

The case examples above illustrate why it is important to research the positive and negative economic effects of a particular security measure. Economic tools can help the urban planner with this in order to prevent wasteful expenditures or come up with innovative concepts like 'surveillance by the public' (a cost-effective way to generate surveillance).

Mobility considerations

In the mobility field, surveillance is often applied for enforcement of speed limits or other traffic rules such as only parking at the allowed spaces.

For speed limit enforcement, surveillance is usually applied with a radar system to measure the speed and a camera with flasher to detect the car driver by its license plate. Also trajectory control is applied, where all drivers are detected at both ends of a trajectory, after which their average speed is calculated and checked against the speed limit.

Ethics considerations

Surveillance is an instance of securitisation, for example the advocation of big and potentially intrusive measures in the name of security, where the concept of security becomes quite broad.[13] Surveillance can involve a variety of ethics issues, such as: cultural differences in citizens' perception of security technologies and their acceptability as well as need to provide norms and standards beyond frameworks for built infrastructure (such as respect for privacy and fundamental rights).

Pinpointing specific ethics aspects in resilience-enhancing measures need to consider citizen security cultures and citizens' personal concerns. There are no ethics considerations that can be planned or implemented without prior identification and addressing of citizens' perceptions. To support this, VITRUV offers a commented list of methods to determine ethics aspects in relevant urban planning.

Legal considerations

Legal considerations when considering surveillance measures are:

  • Development management standards - Measures for surveillance may be hampered by existing directives for building lines, etc.
  • Appearance - Measures for surveillance may for example cause visual clutter
  • Privacy - Measures for surveillance may impose on privacy rules

Footnotes and references

  1. wikipedia:Surveillance
  3. link to be added
  4. wikipedia: AMBER Alert
  6. Waples, S., M. Gill, and P. Fisher (2009). Does CCTV displace crime? Sage Publications.
  7. Violence against persons, for example, increased dramatically, which (according to the authors) "could be explained by the increase in reporting due to the cameras or due to the national upward trend in recorded violent crime."
  8. Alexander Siedschlag: The Concept of Security in the EU, in: Maximilian Edelbacher et al. (eds.): Global Security and the Financial Crisis. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press (Taylor & Francis Group), pp. 51-64 (p. 59).
  9. The so-called economics of criminal and terrorist behaviour
  10. See, e.g.:Priks, M. (2010): The Effect of Surveillance Cameras on Crime: Evidence from the Stockholm Subway. Cameron, A., E. Kolodinski, H. May, N. Williams (2008): Measuring the Effects of Video Surveillance on Crime in Los Angeles. CRB-8-007. USC School of Policy, Planning and Development.
  11. See e.g.:, and
  12. 12.0 12.1 Stewart, M.G., J. Mueller (2008): A risk and cost-benefit assessment of United States aviation security measures. Springer Science.
  13. Cf. Salter, M. B. (2010). Surveillance. In J. P. Burgess (Ed.), The Routledge Handbook of New Security Studies. London: Routledge Taylor and Francis Group.