Evanston aldermen next month should approve Mayor Tisdahl’s plan to seek a grant to fund surveillance cameras on routes to the high school.

The mayor, along with Police Chief Richard Eddington, who’ve been promoting the camera concept since October, held the last of a scheduled series of public meetings to discuss the plan at the Fleetwood-Jourdain Center Wednesday night.

Perhaps 20 residents, plus a handful of city officials and reporters turned out for the session.

Some people supported the plan — which would set up a series of cameras along Church Street from McCormick Boulevard to Ridge Avenue and on the full length of Dodge Avenue.

But they were outnumbered by people who raised concerns about whether the cameras would violate privacy or stigmatize the neighborhoods where they were deployed or would simply be ineffective.

And at least one speaker urged more use of cameras, but said they should be placed on residential blocks where recent shooting incidents have occurred.

Two residents with differing views exchange comments at the meeting.

Here’s why the plan should go forward:

  • While studies of the effectiveness of cameras have shown mixed results, the most recent and thorough reports suggest that, when properly used, they can be highly effective.
  • Camera systems do present potential for abuse of personal privacy, as detailed in this 2007 report from from the ACLU of Northern California. But given the liberal Democratic credentials of our local elected officials and the lack of reports of abusive incidents with the city’s existing cameras, it seems unlikely new cameras here would be abused.
  • The city already spends $27 million — nearly a third of its general fund budget — on deploying a police force with 277 sworn officers and civilian employees. Taxpayers can’t afford any significant increase in officers on the street — the most common alternative objectors offer to the cameras.
  • The grant would amount to “free money” for the city — and a return on taxes local residents have already paid to other levels of government.

A state-mandated survey shows that more than a quarter of Evanston Township High School students feel unsafe while walking between home and school. The camera system offers a sensible and tangible way for the community to respond to those concerns.

Related stories

Mayor wants more security cameras (Dec. 8, 2013)

Evanston police show off new camera truck (May 1, 2013)

Aldermen vote to add cameras, lights around ETHS (Nov. 10, 2012)

Editorial: Let the people watch the cameras (May 13, 2010)

Feds fund surveillance cameras for city (April 23, 2010)

Related documents

Evaluating the use of Public Surveillance Cameras for Crime Control and Prevention (Urban Institute) (.pdf)

Using Public Surveillance Systems for Crime Control and Prevention: A Practical Guide (Urban Institute) (.pdf)

Evanston Police Presentation of Church and Dodge Cameras Plan (.pdf)

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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