Chicago police will soon monitor "bus cams"


By Jon Van
The Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO Chicago police in patrol cars soon will be able to peer inside nearby city buses by electronically tapping into onboard video cameras, the Chicago Transit Authority's vice president for technology said Wednesday.

Live views from inside buses eventually will be available to the city's public safety dispatchers, said John Flynn, who described transit information technology upgrades at the NXTcomm trade show at McCormick Place.

The CTA is outfitting buses with radio equipment that transmits short distances so that video signals can be picked up by Wi-Fi hot spots and nearby police cars. Flynn said that 75 CTA rail stations are equipped as Wi-Fi hot spots and more hot spots are planned. The city is considering proposals from AT&T Inc. and EarthLink to create a municipal Wi-Fi system that would cover the entire city.

Flynn said the CTA is looking at software intended to analyze video scenes from buses and rail stations and to issue alerts about activity that might be of interest.

"Every camera on any bus can be viewed live," Flynn said.

Last month after a gunman opened fire inside a CTA bus, killing a Julian High School student, police looked at videotapes to identify a suspect. The technology being installed would use the same cameras on buses to capture and transmit video images in real time.

Flynn and other information technology officials from public agencies said the technology will enhance transportation and public safety, making Chicago's bid to host the 2016 Olympic Games more attractive.

If Chicago does get the nod in 2009, it will mean extra money to finance additional upgrades to transportation and security efforts, said Ellen Barry, chief information officer for the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority.

The CTA has equipped its subway transit tunnels with antenna systems to enable police, fire and medical workers to communicate wirelessly. The system also supports cell phone communications, Flynn said.

U.S. Cellular Corp. pays the CTA $300,000 a year so that its phones will function while riders are underground, and Flynn said the CTA hopes to have similar agreements with other wireless carriers by the end of this year. He noted that most wireless phones can be used to dial 911 from CTA tunnels, regardless of the carrier.

During a derailment last year, "24 calls were made to 911, and only two of those came from U.S. Cellular customers," Flynn said.

The CTA also is enhancing radio communications from its buses to help track them, Flynn said. Within 18 months, all buses should be equipped so that customers who go online can determine when they will arrive at a specific stop, he said.

Aric Roush, assistant director of information services for the city's 911 call center, said that when someone standing at a CTA train station calls 911, the dispatcher is able to tap into the CTA's video system to look at what's happening near the caller. A citywide upgrade of enhanced 911 will be completed by the end of next year, Roush said.

The city's airports are trying to make flight arrival and departure times more accessible to travelers, said Grafe Smith, Chicago deputy aviation commissioner, who described plans to place flight information displays at CTA stations downtown that serve Midway and O'Hare and at McCormick Place.

The city also attempting to establish other ways, including Web sites and wireless communications to portable devices, to get flight information to customers wherever they are.

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