Mayor says cameras will improve safety, some not so sure

Mayor Tisdahl, with City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz

Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl laid out her argument for more security cameras around Evanston Township High School at City Council Monday night.

Tisdahl pointed to a survey conducted by the Consortium on Chicago School Research that indicated a quarter of the students surveyed at ETHS were concerned about their safety walking to and from school, and a larger number reported being concerned about their safety near the high school.

Making students feel safer going north and south, east and west to and from ETHS is the reason, she said, for proposing that the city apply for grants to fund installation of the cameras.

Tisdahl's proposal targets Church Street from McCormick Boulevard to Ridge Avenue, and Dodge Avenue from Simpson to Howard streets. 

Following a shooting incident Saturday night in the 2000 block of Darrow Avenue that left one man dead, Tisdahl said she went door to door in the area "as I do after all homicides and talked to citizens who lived there."

"I brought up cameras with many of them, and they were universally supportive of the idea," she said.

Tisdahl plans to hold two community meetings to discuss the proposal; one on Tuesday night at the Levy Center, and another Wednesday, Dec. 18, at the Fleetwood Jourdain Community Center. Both meetings begin at 7 p.m. 

Some residents in attendance at the meeting were not so supportive of the mayor's proposal.

Resident Dickelle Fonda said she didn't doubt the intention behind the proposal, which is to "keep children safe," but questioned whether cameras were the best solution.

She asked the council to consider questions and information related to real versus perceived safety, statistics on violent crime in areas with cameras, the collateral impact caused to surrounding neighborhoods -- would crime be driven to other areas -- whether a human presence would be a better deterrent and how best to find a balance between safety and privacy, among other queries. 

Another resident referenced studies conducted in the United Kingdom and San Francisco, which she said indicated that increased security cameras had not yielded a decrease in violent crime. 

A letter read to the council on behalf of resident Jackie Newsome also asked whether, given the importance of the issue, that more community meetings could be held and experts with knowledge in the field be brought in to discuss the proposal following the holiday season.

But the grant money will only be available in January, which means "we need to be ready to apply or not apply" that month, Tisdahl said. 

Resident Madeline Ducre suggested the cameras would not necessarily be a deterrent for crime but rather an "after-effect." Though she supported the proposal for more cameras, she suggested the city install them in other locations, especially other schools, so that "it will also be fair to all of our students."

Police Chief Richard Eddington.

In his presentation on the proposal, Evanston Police Chief Richard Eddington said security cameras are not a new phenomena in the city. Cameras are currently located in the the city's downtown area, 1st, 4th, 5th, 8th and 9th Wards.

Eddington presented several videos of recent crime events, including a stabbing incident, shooting incident and a pedestrian being struck by a car while on a crosswalk. 

Though facial recognition is difficult given the grainy quality of the footage, all three videos substantiated statements made by the victims, he said.

"Cameras aren't a silver bullet," Eddington said. But unlike humans, they don't go on vacation, need sick days or take time off, instead cameras are "always there and record data we need to bring successful prosecutions in court," he said.

Responding to a question from Alderman Dolores Holmes, 5th Ward, Eddington said the cameras are not continually monitored, which he said would be a very difficult and costly task.

Instead, he said, 911 operators have access to the footage in real time, and when a call comes in, they toggle to a camera in that location to determine how large the incident is.

Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, wondered whether the cameras would be pointed a residents' homes with the ability to see inside.

Eddington said they would not, and the level of technology needed to shoot through glass during the nighttime hours would be extremely costly, anyway.

"Our concern is the public way," he said.

And the cameras wouldn't replace patrol officers, Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, asked.

"This is not something that will function by itself," Eddington said. Cameras alone "won't be nearly as effective" as patrolmen on the ground. 

In response to a question regarding residents' awareness of the proposal, Tisdahl said all residents in the area of Dodge Avenue and Church Street near ETHS had received fliers.

"I'm thinking the two meetings would be a good time to speak for anyone who has privacy concerns," she added.

When asked following the meeting about the cost of the cameras, Tisdahl provided a rough estimate of $200,000.

But grant money would not be applied for if residents were not supportive of the proposal, she said, though, "so far the community on a whole has been very supportive."