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April 26, 2006 - Chicago Sun-Times (IL)

Seized Assets Pay For Surveillance Cameras

By Fran Spielman, City Hall Reporter

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

Assets seized from drug dealers have been used to buy 70 more surveillance cameras that will be installed over the next two weeks in high-crime areas and near high schools, Mayor Daley announced today.

Fifty of the new cameras are what Daley called "the next generation" of surveillance technology.

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 zoom lenses, night vision capability and the ability to rotate 360 degrees. Twenty-five have gunshot detection technology capable of "triangulating within 20 feet" the location of a shooting.

The new cameras bring to 170 the number of "Operation Disruption" cameras installed in high-crime areas with microwave antennas that beam pictures back to the 911 emergency center and district stations. Roughly half are monitored around the clock.

Technology that allows police officers to monitor cameras on their beat from their squad cars 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 radical plan to require every licensed Chicago business open more than 12 hours a day to install indoor and outdoor cameras.

"If you have children playing in the playground, around a school or outside your home, people want to feel safe. If people who live in high-rises have doormen and cameras, people inbungalows, two-flats and apartment buildings would [like the same thing]. The want to feel safe. Whether it's riding the L, riding Metra or in a community, cameras are very, very effective. They prevent a lot of crime."

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 in tandem with other crime reduction strategies -- like flooding an area with personnel from a "targeted response unit" or conducting special undercover operations to disrupt open-air drug markets, he said.

"When we put up a camera, that means we're also implementing strategies to ensure that crime simply doesn't move down the block or around the corner," Cline said.

"We've installed cameras in areas where gangs, guns and drugs are most active with one idea: to hit the gangbangers in the pocketbook by disrupting their narcotics trade."

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 underway to determine the CTA routes that students use to get to school and the paths they walk to and from bus and L stops.

One of the new cameras was installed at 56th and Loomis in Englewood to serve as a backdrop for a mayoral news conference that was ultimately moved indoors because of heavy rain. That's a neighborhood - -- with seven cameras already -- still grieving from the shooting deaths of two young girls gunned down in the safety of their homes.

"The greatest compliment I received was from an 82-year-oldman 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 Englewood Ald. Shirley Coleman (16th), after joining Daley at a news conference at Libby Elementary School, 5300 S. Loomis.

"The camera has that kind of effect. It gives people a sense of security."

But Coleman said she was concerned to learn that not all of the cameras are being monitored around the clock.

"I don't want to see any dog-and-pony-show cameras in my ward. If something happens, God forbid, they [can] say, 'Well, this one was not monitored.'I'm not interested in props for the community. We have to have the real stuff," Coleman said.

Two years ago, Chicago became a world leader in Big Brother technology.

With help from a $5.1 million federal homeland security grant, the city announced plans to install 250 cameras at locations at high risk of a terrorist attack, link them and 2,000 existing cameras to the 911 center and equip them all with sophisticated software capable of spotting "suspicious and unusual behavior."

City Hall is now finalizing a contract for "Operation Virtual Shield," Daley's plan to link 1,000 miles of "sometimes stand-alone fiber" into a unified "homeland security grid"--complete with sensors capable of monitoring the city's water supply and detecting chemical and biological weapons.

The city also made an unprecedented offer to the private sector. Businesses that agreed to pay an undisclosed fee for the privilege would have cameras outside their entrances and even in their stairwells monitored by the 911 center.

Last summer, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that Boeing Corp. had become the first Chicago business to join the camera network.

On Tuesday, City Hall disclosed that 50 corporations -- ranging from utilities to companies in the LaSalle Street financial district -- have also signed on. Officials were tight-lipped about the fee and the precise number of cameras.

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