18 Sep 2014

Editor Introduction

Surveillance cameras in public places and private properties are rather ubiquitous these days, but what is less obvious is whether a camera is a "dummy" camera or not.

Installing fake surveillance cameras to use as a deterrent is a common tactic used when the price of a real security camera falls outside of one's budget. But when should dummy cameras be used? What are the implications this poses? Let's see what some of our panellists think.

In certain situations, the use of dummy cameras can be an effective deterrent when placed in plain view. There is little doubt that people are less likely to commit thefts or other minor crimes if they believe they are under surveillance. Curbing casual thefts or crimes of opportunity are perhaps the best applications for dummy cameras. The issue with their broader use, however, is if cameras are present, there is a reasonable expectation of a secure environment in both public and private areas. If the public sees cameras and assumes they are real, they could argue that they were reliant on the protection provided by the cameras. This could result in potential liability issues for the location owner if an incident occurs. In short, dummy cameras should never be used in lieu of actual security measures when the risk is any higher than simple nuisance-level loss prevention.

Fredrik Nilsson Axis Communications

Around 15 years ago, the quality of surveillance cameras was relatively poor, making them mostly a deterrent. Then DVRs came along making forensics viable, and later IP cameras, which made the video quality exceptional. Now video surveillance has become a critical business and security tool. Using dummy cameras today continues the precedent that cameras are mostly for deterrence. This is actually bad for the whole industry as cameras in the future will have built-in intelligence and integration with other systems and sensors so that businesses and security leaders can proactively protect and optimise their organisation.

Simon Lambert Lambert & Associates

CCTV consultants seem mainly to advise against dummy cameras being used as a cost-saving tactic. How about as a decoy in an otherwise CCTV-surveyed area? Maybe. I would usually have played safe and advised likewise. However, I now suspect it is a longstanding myth that victims of crime sue dummy camera owners for providing a ‘false sense of security’ that exacerbated their injuries. The often cited “woman leads attackers to area under a CCTV camera but turned out to be a dummy” story turns out to be just that: part of a wider story hypothesised in a 1997 Canadian legal journal. Many members of online CCTV forums sought such real law cases (in numerous countries) finding little against dummies particularly. However, where no-win-no-fee lawsuits are commonplace, give strong warnings to the dummy camera’s owner before passing them all responsibility for the consequences. Ask your lawyer. Beware of myths.

In limited situations, maybe to discourage shoplifting in a small business, a dummy camera could possibly have a deterrent effect. However, the dummy camera would need to be really convincing. The ones I have seen tend to look fake, so I wonder if they would really fool anybody. Also, with camera prices coming down, it seems as if using an inexpensive real camera might be a better choice (with the added benefit of actually providing video.)

Editor Summary

Our panellists have all made very thought-provoking and valid points. There's no need to reiterate the obvious fact that a real camera will always be better than a fake one. But in those cases where someone might want to use a fake camera, as Dave and Simon have pointed out, dummy cameras generally shouldn't be used in place of real cameras if the intention is to prevent crime. As Dave says, dummy cameras are really best for simple applications like "nuisance-level loss prevention" and not much more. Then of course, there are the implications of using fake cameras. As our panellists have mentioned, people would expect a certain level of security from cameras placed in public places. 

Fredrik also draws our attention to a very interesting point. If people are still seeing cameras as not much more than a deterrent, this will be hugely problematic. This implies that as cameras become more intelligent, a significant change must take place to educate the general public about the capabilities of modern surveillance cameras. With security cameras getting better and better, basic cameras that are capable of the "bare minimum" are becoming more affordable. Perhaps these very basic cameras will gradually take the place of the dummy cameras and a basic working camera is surely better than a completely non-functional one?