Chicago: Recent upgrade of cameras helps fight crime

Mayor Daley has argued that security and terrorism won't be an issue if his Olympic dreams come true, because by 2016, there will be a surveillance camera on every street corner in Chicago.

But even before that blanket coverage begins, the "Big Brother'' network is being put to better use.

Call takers and dispatchers now see real-time video if there is a surveillance camera within 150 feet of a 911 call, thanks to a $6 million upgrade to the city's "computer-aided dispatch" system.

When live video appears, call takers can pan, tilt and zoom those cameras to get the best view of a crime or disaster scene.

"As a first responder, I can't tell you how important it is to have a set of eyes on an emergency scene prior to your arrival," said Ray Orozco, executive director of the city's Office of Emergency Management and Communications and a former city fire commissioner.

"The valuable information they provide from the camera network can ultimately mean the difference between life and death," he said. "Whether you send one ambulance or three, two squad cars or four, it all depends upon the information we are able to gather from the 911 caller."

During a December test, live video was used to catch a petty thief in the act of sticking his hand in a Salvation Army kettle outside Macy's on State Street.

But the crime-fighting potential is "limitless," said Police Supt. Jody Weis.

"You know what the suspect's vehicle might be. It can give us instant leads, Weis said. "If we can warn our officers of any dangers they're facing ahead of time, it's a tremendous advantage."

In 2004, City Hall used a $5.1 million federal homeland security grant to install 250 cameras at locations thought to be at high risk of a terrorist attack and link them and 2,000 existing city cameras to the 911 center.

On Thursday, Orozco refused to say how many cameras are linked to the 911 center, but he reiterated Daley's earlier promise.

"We're going to grow the system until we eventually cover one end of the city to the other," he said.