Do Fake Security Cameras Really Deter Crime?


Most home burglars are lazy and will take the easiest route. Using dummy cameras and other techniques can cut your risk of becoming a victim.

Security cameras deter crime by making criminals feel more likely to be caught. However, home security Closed-circuit television (CCTV) systems are expensive, which is why many homeowners turn to dummy cameras that look like the real thing, but don’t capture video. But do dummy cameras work?

Don’t Tag the Bus!

A 1988 study demonstrated the efficacy of dummy cameras in a real-life application. CCTV cameras were installed to combat vandalism and graffiti on a fleet of 80 buses in northern England. But the bus company only installed cameras on five buses, and of those, three of them were dummy cameras. Nevertheless, vandalism and graffiti declined sharply for the whole fleet.

The circumstances lent themselves to success in this instance: The targeted criminals were mostly children, and the success of the CCTV program came in part because of deliberate efforts to publicize the punishment of vandals caught via camera, and by taking the bus around to schools in the area. In other words, the dummy CCTV cameras were working hard to prove how real they were.

You Can’t Fight Crime Alone

Regardless, this study demonstrates the effect of cameras on deterrence: When people associated their destructive actions with the risk of punishment, but were uncertain of the level of risk or the severity of punishment, crime dropped.

Thus, from a deterrence standpoint, dummy cameras are most effective when coupled with real cameras and resulting arrests. For this reason, deterrence may be less realistic for a homeowner, although one could piggyback on another system if one lives in a neighborhood with security cameras. But wait, there’s more...

But You Can Make Things Harder

The majority of burglars select their targets at random, based on relative location to the offender’s home, physical accessibility and the neighborhood’s affluence. Thus, a major aim of home security should be discouragement, by making one’s house a hassle to rob.

The premise is one based on rational choice theory, which says thatcriminals, like any humans, weigh their decisions on risk-reward.

In this theory, any obvious home security measure—from a fence to dummy cameras—will make one’s house a less attractive target than a nearby house without such measures.

Helping The Neighborhood

Homeowners may worry that their own security efforts put their neighbors at higher risk by merely displacing the crime, but they would be wrong. Studies have shown that discouragement spreads outward in a halo, so that if criminals know that certain houses in a neighborhood have security measures like home security systems or CCTV, they will be less likely to prey upon any home in that neighborhood. Discerning which houses are secured and which are not makes it not worth the effort of burglarizing that neighborhood at all.

Dummy cameras are a good way to show would-be criminals that you care about the security of your house. While no amount of security will protect you completely, making your house a difficult target will make it a safer place to be.


Date of original publication:
Updated on: July 12, 2017

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