04/26/2006

70 new electronic eyes on the Chicago streets

Fran Spielman, The Chicago Sun-Times

Copyright 2006 Chicago Sun-Times, Inc.
All Rights Reserved 

If there were enough dirty money to go around, Mayor Daley would love to see surveillance cameras installed on every street corner in Chicago -- paid with assets seized from drug dealers.

That'll never happen -- not with 37,000 intersections in Chicago and roughly 148,000 different corners. But every little bit helps.

On Tuesday, Daley held a news conference at an Englewood elementary school to announce the $1.68 million purchase of what he called the "next generation" of video surveillance in a city that's fast become famous for it.

Seventy more surveillance cameras will be installed over the next two weeks in high-crime areas and near high schools, 50 of them so lightweight they can easily be moved based on crime spikes and police intelligence.

They weigh 35 pounds and cost just $20,000 apiece, compared to 100 pounds at $34,000 each for the old model. Both versions have night vision capability and the ability to rotate 360 degrees.

NOT JUST MOVING CRIMINALS AROUND

The new cameras will bring to 170 the number of cameras installed in high-crime areas with microwave antennas that beam pictures back to the 911 center and district stations.

The Chicago Police Department has a dozen suitcases that allow police officers to monitor cameras from crime scenes. But Daley said his ultimate goal is to let all officers monitor the cameras on their beats from their squad cars. That technology is still being developed. The city is also still testing sophisticated software capable of spotting "suspicious and unusual behavior."

"Eventually, as the technology gets better, you'll have more and more cameras in communities -- for the safety of people and prevention," said Daley, who has embraced a plan to require every licensed business open more than 12 hours a day to install cameras.

Police Supt. Phil Cline said it's not enough to "simply install a camera" in a high-crime area.

Video surveillance needs to be conducted with other strategies, like flooding an area with "target response unit" personnel and conducting undercover operations to disrupt drug markets, he said.

Violent crime "goes down in the area of the camera and it's not going up a couple blocks away outside the range of the camera. It's not just dispersing it. It's actually having an effect in cutting crime," Cline said.

The mayor was tight-lipped about where the latest round of cameras would be installed.

He would only say that some would be located near high schools, based on an "assessment" now under way to determine the routes that students use to get to school.

One of the new cameras has already been installed at 56th and Loomis in Englewood. That's a neighborhood -- with seven cameras already -- still grieving from the shooting deaths of two girls.

BUT COPS NOT ALWAYS WATCHING

"The greatest compliment I received was from an 82-year-old-man who lived on a corner where a camera was [installed]. He came to me crying and said, 'This is the first time I've ever been able to sit on my porch,' " said Ald. Shirley Coleman (16th) after joining Daley at his announcement at Libby Elementary School, 5300 S. Loomis.

But Coleman was concerned to hear Daley say that only some of the cameras are monitored around the clock. "I don't want to see any dog-and-pony-show cameras in my ward," Coleman said. 
 

 

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