The Chicago Tribune
February 18, 2006
City sold on video security
By Gary Washburn
Voters like camera network
As Mayor Richard Daley pushes to increase video surveillance in public places across the city, a Tribune/WGN-TV poll has found that the city's security cameras have overwhelming support among Chicago residents.
A newer proposal that would require cameras in thousands of businesses has far less backing but still enjoys support from most poll participants.
The city's surveillance network includes more than 2,000 cameras in such sites as transit stations, streets and public housing complexes. Included are about 100 police devices, featuring flashing blue lights, on utility poles in high-crime areas.
Critics have voiced concern about the growing number of electronic eyes, but Daley has made it clear he wants even more. And he contends that Chicagoans want them too, something the Tribune/WGN survey seems to support.
The poll of 700 voters, conducted Feb. 10-13 by Market Shares Corp. of Mt. Prospect, found that eight out of 10 respondents favor the video security network.
The support cuts across racial and ethnic lines, with 80 percent of white respondents, 77 percent of African-Americans and 83 percent of Hispanics saying they like the cameras.
The poll has a 4 percentage point margin of error.
Gwen Rivera, a poll participant and Northwest Side resident, recalls the video images of a young girl being abducted by a man in an out-of-state case that made national news.
Rivera, 62, believes the presence of cameras can help reduce the number of such incidents and give potential perpetrators "a thought before they would do something," she said.
"My sense is that the poll reflects what I hear in the community," said Ald. Joe Moore (49th). "People are overwhelmingly in favor of cameras. We've got three [police cameras] in my community, and they are popular."
At Morse and Glenwood Avenues in Rogers Park, where one of the devices has been in place for about a year, serious crime has declined by more than 20 percent, Moore said. Statistics are not available yet at the other two locations, both on Howard Street, where cameras were installed late last year, the alderman said.
But "people tell me they feel a lot safer walking on the street--a lot less suspicious activity, hanging out, suspected drug activity."
Some police cameras are deployed in Ald. Ed Smith's 28th Ward on the West Side, and Smith said he is "looking for more."
Community leaders say, "`Do something about the problem,'" the alderman said. "`The drugs are killing us. The gangs are a major problem. We want the cameras.'"
When Daley announced an expansion of the police camera program in 2004, state Sen. Rickey Hendon (D-Chicago) contended the devices stigmatize neighborhoods as "blue-light districts" and were being used in minority neighborhoods as a substitute for flesh-and-blood police officers.
Some Chicagoans share Hendon's concerns.
Genola Harris, 66, of the South Side supported cameras in the poll, but she acknowledged Thursday that she has mixed feelings.
"I feel like it takes a lot of our freedom away," she said. "Then again, I feel we need some protection."
Harris, who worked in sales and in the beauty industry before retiring, also questions whether the cameras "are all over the city of Chicago or whether it is black neighborhoods."
The Daley administration is seeking to link security cameras in office and apartment buildings, as well as other private properties, to the city's system on a voluntary basis, connecting them to the 911 center on the Near West Side.
"A lot of companies downtown" are signed up, the mayor said recently, though officials declined to list them.
More city cameras are at the top of his security wish list, the mayor said.
Civil libertarians have acknowledged that cameras focused on public areas do not raise constitutional questions.
But Ed Yohnka, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, believes the city's surveillance network has received a positive response so far because cameras are being touted as crime-fighting tools.
Yohnka said he believes there will be a "wait a second" reaction in the future as the video grid is expanded.
"I think when people get a sense of what the scope of this is, what the possible reach of this is, the natural instincts to ensure and protect basic privacy are really accentuated," he said.
A proposal by Ald. Ray Suarez (31st) would require businesses open at least 12 hours a day to install cameras in parking lots and inside their property. Daley supports the concept, though he believes that certain "mom and pop" businesses should be exempted.
When asked about that proposal, 58 percent of poll participants were in favor. Support among white voters was only 46 percent, but blacks (70 percent) and Hispanics (67 percent) exhibited much stronger backing.
Despite his support for the city-owned cameras, Moore said he believes the new proposal is "incredibly draconian" and would force merchants to spend money "regardless of whether the business is a site of criminal activity."
Smith theorized that the strong backing of the measure among African-Americans in the poll is because "crime in our community is extreme in many cases and, because of that, people see it every day."
Harris, the retiree from the South Side, likes the concept despite her qualms about the city cameras. "For stores that are open late at night or in an isolated place, I think it is a very good idea," she said.
Good to know that Chicagoans never read "1984."
More erosion of civil liberties by so called liberals. I can't wait to get the fuck away from this state.
I can't wait to find another job and stop working in that forsaken city.
Why not just implant the gps chip in us, and be done with it!
So a camera is trained on someone stabbing an innocent person to death, exactly how is that going to benefit the victim, who will later die of their wounds? What idiocy. Even the drug dealers/prostitutes will go underground and still continue operating, especially out of private residences, where the police will need evidence and a search warrant to put a stop to the illegal activity, which will now occur on private property. Or is this just another attempt to export crime to the suburbs surrounding Chicago itself?
What a Brave New World this is.
One more step to the unrestrained police state.
I just can not believe how naive people are getting!
I just do not know what to say anymore!