Chicago to Increase Presence of Surveillance Cameras on Streets

Oct. 4--Another 100 police cameras are headed to high-crime street corners as the city expands a security system intended to disrupt crime, Mayor Richard Daley announced Tuesday.

But the new generation of cameras will be less obtrusive than the 200 already on the street. They will be a fraction of the weight and size of the current model and not be equipped with flashing blue lights.

Some neighborhoods want the blue-light variety because residents "are sick and tired of the gangbangers and drug dealers," while others don't, Daley said.

Some of the new cameras will have signs nearby calling attention to their presence. In other cases, when it is "to our tactical advantage," devices will be installed without identification and warning, said Police Supt. Philip Cline.

They are to be purchased under a $1 million line item to be contained in Daley's proposed 2007 budget.

The cameras already in use have been effective, officials said.

At locations where they have been in use for more than 180 days, "total reported incidents have decreased by over 30 percent," and narcotics-related activities by more than 60 percent, Cline said at a news conference.

"While the primary intent is to prevent crime before it happens, we also have been able to make arrests based on video captured by the cameras," he said. "In 2006 alone, [cameras] have directly assisted in 480 arrests."

The new cameras weigh about 15 pounds, compared to more than 100 pounds for those now in service. They can be moved from one location to another as crime patterns dictate, with greater speed and ease, officials said.

They cost about $6,000 each, compared to up to $30,000 for the blue-light models.

Some critics have contended that cameras can stigmatize a neighborhood, but officials insisted Tuesday that residents clamor for more.

"I can tell you in my ward right now, people every day are asking for cameras," said Ald. Isaac Carothers (29th), chairman of the City Council's Police and Fire Committee. "I don't think they care if it is [blue] light or no light. They'd like to have a camera."

The new cameras will digitally record and store images and will connect to district police stations and the city's 911 center.

Elsewhere on the video-enforcement front, Daley said the city will fight a lawsuit filed Monday that challenges the constitutionality of its use of cameras to arrest red-light violators at high-accident intersections.

The plaintiffs contend the camera program violates their civil rights because, among other things, it issues $90 tickets to car owners even if they did not commit the violation.

"If someone gives a gun to a 17-year-old and says, 'Here's my gun. You can play with it,' it's called responsibility," the mayor said. "You have a responsibility for that car. If that car got into an accident, they would sue you."

On another issue, Daley said he supports the idea of a special legislative session in Springfield to consider curbing expected double-digit increases in electric rates. But he stopped short of calling for a continued rate freeze.

Copyright (c) 2006, Chicago Tribune Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.