Measure: 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 (see case examples below) intend to increase the level of security, detecting security issues and mitigating the negative (economic) effects of security threats. Security measures, however, also require investment in capital, time and money exacting economic cost/impact. The costs of surveillance measures contain the relatively straightforward direct expenditures such as investments in police officers, cameras in the street, public awareness programmes, etc. In addition, surveillance measures generate various types of secondary effects. These indirect economic effects are the result of subsequent rounds of expenditure ('re-expenditures') of business companies, households and public authorities outside the security market.

Whether the costs are making sense from an economic point of view, depends on many factors, and can be answered by two distinct sets of questions (see also the flow chart of an economic assessment):

  1. Are the envisioned surveillance measures cost effective from a socio-economic point of view, or are there better alternatives?
  2. Which specific agents (individuals, companies, sectors, authorities) are affected by the surveillance measures, and to which extend? How do the envisioned measures alter the behaviour of these agents, and, of course, the behaviour of criminals/terrorists?

Case example: dedicated surveillance on location

Stewart and Mueller (2008)[9] 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 [10] 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.

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[11]. 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[12].
  • To be effective, surveillance systems should be fully integrated into law enforcement practices.

Economic tools can help decision makers to answer these questions and to prevent wasteful expenditures on security (of course in collaboration with insights from criminology, sociology, etc.).

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

Main legal considerations relate to the impact of surveillance-related measures on privacy, collection and use of personal data, and human rights.

VITRUV offers a summary checklist and a list of methods to assess legal aspects in resilience-enhancing urban planning.

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. Stewart, M.G., J. Mueller (2008). A risk and cost-benefit assessment of United States aviation security measures. Springer Science.
  10. Ibid.
  11. 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.
  12. See e.g.: and
  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.