Rape Under A Dummy Camera - Is This A True Story?

Over the years, I have heard a surveillance story repeated about a woman raped in a parking lot. They story explains how the woman noticed a surveillance camera and somehow moved towards it to get an image of the rapist. However, it turns out that it was a dummy camera, and no video was ever recorded. The story concludes that the women successfully sued the business because it had created a false sense of security by deploying dummy cameras. The lesson was never use dummy cameras.

Update - EUREKA, I FOUND IT! - It is a legend.

I am wondering if this actually happened or if there are any other verifiable stories of dummy cameras resulting in legal judgments against dummy camera users. Looking forward to any input.


I have no proof to offer either way, but it smells of something a desparate sales guy would come up with to combat the drastically cheaper alternative of dummy cameras.

Here's someone telling that same story - with a few more details. This guy said it was in a office building parking lot in California, and the judgement was in excess of $1M.

However, check out this FindLaw string posting by someone who's actually spent time researching the subject. At the bottom of his post he lists case examples that seem to support his contention that this whole story is bunk.

I heard this one too - our strata council was discussing adding cameras to the complex to back up the existing "Area Under Video Surveillance" signs, and the property manager brought up a similar version of this story, although in this case, the story was that the woman was waving at the dummy camera under the assumption someone would be watching and be able to send help.

Which raises a whole other issue: the ASSUMPTION that someone is monitoring cameras in realtime, rather than the cameras just recording.

Anyway, don't know if I've ever seen anything to verify these stories. Snopes appears to have nothing at all related to this concept.

Google isn't much more helpful - I came up with three camera/rape/lawsuit stories, but one involved a security guard using the systems to his advantage to commit assaults, one was a supposed victim claiming an overall lack of security (guards, cameras, public "blue light" phones, etc.) on a college campus, and the third was a Chicago woman suing the CTA because SOME train stations had less security than others (further details are blocked by a paywall).

I did find this article discussing the issue, and it raises the same scenario I mentioned above, stating it to be a real event, but provides no attribution or proof. Actually, the "article" appears to be alternating sides of a debate on the issue, all run together, but it suggests several cases that could be found in a Westlaw search... someone then comments on the article with:

I’ve searched Westlaw (all state and federal cases) and have been unable to find a case involving Sears or Sheraton or any of the “dozens of cases on the records”. Could you please provide me w/ a few cites?

Something tells me this one can be chalked up to urban legend. The story (or several versions of it) appear to be well-circulated, but again, there doesn't seem to be anything verifiable.

This and many other "security legends" have been hotly debated amongst International Association of Professional Security Consultants (IAPSC) members for years. Many IAPSC members serve as expert witnesses in high-profile security lawsuits and are always searching for scientific studies and/or case law to substantiate their opinions on cases.

In addition to the "fake camera" legend, others include "cameras serve as a deterrent to crime", "unmonitored cameras are a liability", "you have more liability if you install cameras than if you don't", "you must use signs with cameras" etc. The sad truth is, when you look, there is almost nothing to back up these claims. Even widely-held beliefs, such as better lighting means less crime, or providing security guards deters crime, are tough to validate using anything other than personal opinions.

The bottom line is that much more scientific research and peer-reviewed studies are needed in the security industry. IAPSC has started a few initiatives in this area, but as a small organizations there is a limit to what they can do. I would like to see ASIS take the lead on this type of effort instead of spending vast sums of money on activities that I think are nearly worthless.

Wow, that was quite the haymaker!

Your list of unverified claims is very compelling, and I agree that it is worth investigating.

Interesting the timing of this discussion!

Last year, I supplied a dummy camera to my local school maintenance manager so he could keep some of his staff from goofing off or changing settings on things in the school's utitliy room. The school does have a real working CCTV camera system, and the intent seemed realtively harmless. Recently, a school security expert evaluated the school and upon seeing the dummy camera told everyone the school was at risk for a lawsuit for "providing a false sense of security."

I've always heard this legend/fable since joining the industry many (many) years ago, (admittedly may have used it in sales pitches [cough]); however, also secretely wondered if properties would be just as liable if you had a full functioining video system and an event occurred where part of the property wasn't covered by surveillance; the camera or recorder failed; or nobody was watching.

My firm represents Pelco, and a couple of years ago, they did a study on the camera coverage for their entire Clovis campus. If you've ever been to Pelco's campus (it's obviously loaded with cameras), you'd probably assume there isn't a spot on the property where you are not being recorded; however, the results were quite surprising. I forgot the exact number (will try and find it), but want to say less than half of the campus and interior buildings actually had surveillance coverage.

So, if I was attacked somewhere off the surveillance grid, could I also sue for providing a false sense of security?

I appreciate the Findlaw link Marty posted. I'm going to print this out and give it to the maintenance man who I'm sure felt I placed him in an precarious position.

Kyle, good feedback. I am not surprised that about half the Pelco campus was not covered. I bet it's 75% or 85% of most facilities even with decent surveillance coverage. For one, it's wasteful. You generally don't need to cover any part, just the key areas where most activity/incidents occur. Secondly, if you did, it would cost an absolute fortune to cover everything and get real detail at each point.

That said, I suspect there's a difference between not covering anywhere and covering areas with false cameras. Either way, though, there still doesn't seem to be much legal evidence for these claims :)

I can't help but wonder, IF such a case ever did come to trial... how would the stated intent of the dummy camera weigh? In Kyle's example above, the dummy was placed to discourage "goofing off". A defense lawyer might then argue, it was never meant to instill any "sense of security" in the first place and any assumption to that end was entirely on the victim's part.

Granted, from things we all hear about how the courts work, that reasoning would probably be laughed out the door...

There's no way I think using dummy cameras is prudent, but this seems like a slippery legal issue to me.

Can I sue someone because the working camera they installed fell into disrepair? Wasn't positioned correctly to see me be victimized? Wasn't actively monitored?

I guess you are not following the tragedy in the Madrid Arena. During the Halloween night, 5 teenage girls died crushed by the stampede of people leaving and entering the place during the show of a famous DJ.

Some of the cameras in this installation were dummy and several people in the chain of designing, commissioning and operating that security system are being accused of several offences. Some of them have already spent some time in jail as a precautionary measure. Dummy cameras were not the main point to sue them, but the concept of designing a system that is not made for security but for a fake sense of security is being pondered by the judge and the public.

The question of the validity of the story is really not relevant. In the US at least, you do not have to be right to bring a lawsuit which could potentially be a catastrophic expense to any business. Why expose yourself to this liability in return for what little potential benefit this practice might bring. With the proliferation of surveillance video the idea of deterence has long since dissapeared. Install a proper security system, designed and provided by a qualified company with a good reputation and don't waste money on these silly "less expensive" ideas.

The undisclosed manufacturer doth protest too much, methinks.

So, I can sue an organization if they don't recognize my right to be recorded and observed?

I think this might turn into a debate of "Should I / Should I not install a security Camera?" and "Can I get sued if they're not recording certain events?"

Litigation aside, I think the practical benefits of surveillance cameras outweigh the costs. Not all people agree, and that's why manufacturers compete to provide both marketable and economical solutions.

Back to litigation, though... I don't think it's right, fair, or reasonable to sue a person or business for not living up to assumptions... You have a right to be safe, but you don't have a right to demand that third parties record you whenever you feel like you're in the mood for it.

Electronic Surveillance Laws Directory

Silent Video Surveillance Laws

Liability for Installed Surveillance Cameras

Hidden Camera Law Review - Brickhouse Security

Just a note, this really happened and I will find the article, and if you notice no company sells dummy cameras anymore after that case .

We stopped just after that case , the companies we sub for stopped after that case , ADI Stopped selling us cameras for that purpose after that case.

Just because you don't know, does not mean it did not happen, just your ignorant of the facts.

USA case, happened about 10-15 years ago and All my suppliers stopped the sales when it happened.

This is when the industry made a dramatic change in attitude and the way we do business.

I will find and the California laws regarding expectation of privacy and assumed protection.

I look forward to seeing the actual case, but FYI ADI still sells dummy cameras. A quick search for "dummy cam" produces at least half a dozen results. I'm sure other distributors are the same, not to mention all the online sources.

Bet you $5 you don't find anything, regardless of your confidence level.

There are numerous posts above that point out the flawed logic of any such legal theory. In order for there to be statutes that prohibit or regulate something, that 'something' must at least be definable. 'Expectation of security' hasn't been defined (and maybe can't be, based on some of the previous comments).

Are there laws regulating where you can record or how you share that video? You bet there are. And these regulations are based largely on the legally defined principle of 'expectation of privacy'. Expectation of security is silly talk. :)

Thanks for all the thoughtful comments today. Jose, I was not aware that they had dummy cameras. I am curious to see what the legal outcome is for the security system people involved.

Beyond that case to be determined, the problem is we still do have a single confirmed case for liability by dummy camera.

On the one hand, we have the sentiment of "Why expose yourself to this liability in return for what little potential benefit this practice might bring."

However, absent some credible case to be made of actual liability or law breaking, making such recommendations seems little more than fear mongering and profiteering.

The reality is that dummy cameras are a huge cost saver. Even compared to a Costco system, dummy cameras are 90% less.

Ultimately, I am not endorsing dummy cameras but I don't think we can fairly and uniltarelly reject dummy cameras unless there is real legal or case law evidence.

"Dummy" cameras can be cheaper still - it's a great way to reuse and recycle dead "real" cameras :)

I found the source for the rape under a surveillance camera story - and it's just a story. Bizarrely, it is from a 1997 security article from a Canadian attorney. This self proclaimed 'realistic situation' has become a security urban legend.

Even that article, which is highly cautious about using dummy cameras or broken surveillance, finds the potential liability of surveillance to be much lower than faulty safety/security features. For instance, surveillance is typically regarded as just a deterrent, but a broken 'call-for-help' button is much impactful as it could / should result in immediate help to the person under attack.

Also, I reviewed a 2004 US case against a storage company that seems to be trumpeted as a reason not to use dummy cameras or 'lie' about surveillance. However, the details of the case show only minor liability.

In this case, a person who leased a storage unit claims they signs advising “SMILE YOU ARE BEING VIDEO TAPED" motivated him to select this storage facility. However, it turned out that they did not have any system installed.

While this person 'won', they did not really win much at all. The court declared, "His damages because of this breach are the difference between the cost of a storage space with video surveillance and the cost of one without." In other words, peanuts. Moreover, the court did not find the surveillance to be much of a factor at all, noting, "it is obvious to me that having a camera would not have prevented the theft because the theft occurred with signs saying there were cameras."

There might be stronger cases still out there but even the best we have found so far does not make a power legal case against dummy cameras.

I'm always running across customers who are looking for fake cameras.

Ask themn if they accept fake money in their business.

During my tenure with a very large store count retail chain we worried constantly about liability. Having been sued more than a few times I speak with experience that "inadequate security" is the first or second claim asserted. While it would not prevail on strictly legal grounds it has real jury impact when systems are not maintained, are dummy due to cost or were declined simply due to investment required. I know of no outcomes solely driven by dummy equipment.

We did proprietary in-depth analysis on the impact of video on robbery prevention (# of cameras, size of PV monitor), impact of guard presence, impact of alarm sytem type and presence, impact of interior & exterior lighting and several other factors. The presence of a video system showed no deterrance contribution itself, but did contribute to employee confidence and investigation resolution. The impact of dummy cameras itself was studied by others and found to reduce the incidence of minor crime like shoplifting but only for no more than 90 days post-deployment. The lifesize cardboard cutout of a uniformed policeman posted in grocery stores had far more impact!

Jack, where's my like button, I could not agree more. We were told to give them to the customers & let them decide if they wanted to assume full responsibility. Sorry to say a lot of them chose cost over liability.

They figured deterrence mainly. We would install a 1 -3 ration of dummy cameras. Then a sudden change of heart, and the attitude was none at all. I still give them to customers and let them assume liability for them.

We don't install dummy cameras NMWTC as when something happens they always assume they are protected as the forget which ones are dummy and which are true areas of importance. Besides with the cost down so much its better to install cheap and upgrade after the fact .

This was just recently brought up in a LinkedIn discussion on the CCTV Installers group.

A security professional repeated the "rape under a dummy camera" story and said he read about it in the papers years ago. He provided the name of three newspapers. I sent emails to all three and called the Mississauga police department in Canada (where he claimed the incident occurred). Two of the newspapers emailed me back a response saying they couldn't find any story like that being printed, and the media relations person at the police department, who said she had been working there for 25 years, never heard of such an incident.

Luis, thanks for sharing that discussion. Interesting to see how much interest there is in the topic.

We did find the source of the rape under a dummy camera claim and it's just a story. Bizarrely, it is from a 1997 security article from a Canadian attorney.

Reminds me of the old "rocket car Darwin Award" tale... most versions of it I've seen have (presumably) direct quotes from a local police department, yet when contacted, nobody at that department knows anything about such an actual occurrence... although they do get a LOT of calls asking about it.

"A spokesman of the Arizona Department of Public Safety stated in a 1996 newspaper article the JATO story wasn't true though they continued to get asked about it. "We get a call on that about every 90 days,'' said Dave Myers. ''It keeps us on the map.''

(BTW, this legend was done real justice in the 2006 Joseph Fiennes/Winona Ryder comedy, The Darwin Awards - highly recommend checking it out!)

No info on whether it is true or not, but I can tell you that the use of dummy cameras at a shopping center in a major city in South America led to an extremely irate individual threatening action when his car was broken into and emptied of its valuables directly in front of a dummy camera. The individual, who managed a jewellery store in the center, made a point of always parking directly in front of the fixed-body camera as an added layer of "deterrence" from anyone doing anything to his vehicle, and was less than impressed when he found out the camera was not real; he didn't use dummy cameras in his store and didn't realize that there were dummy cameras in the parking areas of the shopping center.I don't know if he ever followed up on legal action, but I do know that the dummy cameras were all removed or replaced. Thankfully the offending cameras pre-existed my involvement with that video system, and I had always stated that IMO the risks of using them outweighed the potential benefits.

I use to work for a large retailers, and it was the companies policy to repair or remove non-functioning cameras and security devices. The company policy stems from a lawsuit in which someone was assaulted in a parking lot, and sued the company for lack up functioning security cameras. The term used in the courts was called "Implied Security"; which means by having cameras installed, (I assume dummy or otherwise), you are implying a minimum level of security is being provided to the customers and the employees. When the camera doesn't work, the company can potentially find itself liable for damages.

I found this article, and there are others, but I don't have an actual court filing.

I also wrote a blog post on the subject several years ago. My blog has since been taken down, but it was picked up by another company and posted at this link.

There is ZERO evidence to support your contention that 'implied security' has any valid legal standing or precedent in relation to the use of dummy surveillance cameras.

Warnings from security camera sellers, consultants and bloggers does not constitute case law.

It's not clear whether the article Eric linked is related to the company he actually worked for, if the company's policy stems an actual successful lawsuit, or whether it's just a "pre-emptive" policy based on news stories and an overly-cautious legal department.

It seems to me though, that even the CHANCE of a lawsuit would be reason enough for some companies to institute such a policy, since even successfully defending the suit would still incur legal costs, not to mention negative press.

Eric, I agree that 'implied security' is a legal concern. However, the key issue is whether surveillance cameras fall under security. From what we have seen from US court case filing, surveillance cameras are not considered security nor capable of preventing / stopping crime.

If there is a court case that shows that malfunctioning or dummy surveillance cameras do result in losing court cases, feel free to share. We have reviewed a number that showed the opposite and none in supporting the fear/risk.

John, interesting topic, with the number of replies you have it would be nice to see someone take a leadership role in educating our community about this subject; preferably not someone looking to make this a big profit center, we already have enough people looking out for our best interests with their own.

My curiosity has been cut short, but I wanted to share a link I found where this topic was being discussed. Allegedly there’s an attorney out of Puyallup, WA who references being familiar with some actual (related) cases. Admittedly I’m not at all familiar with the site, so further investigation is needed to prove any merit. Perhaps someone would want to reach out to the attorney mentioned in the string, Jacob Brian Smith, to see if there are any details on the cases mentioned. The link can be found HERE

Yeah I read a story similar to that and they say that having dummy cameras is just dumb because of the liability issues.

What story? What concrete liability? That's the point of this discussion. There are lots of 'stories' but little evidence of actual loss / risk.