Cameras linked to emergency call centers

By Ashley Badgley

The thousands of cameras that line Chicago streets and CTA stations are becoming even more connected to emergency personnel. After being implemented in 2005, the street cameras are being updated and linked to 911 call centers.

The goal of the link is to better prepare and describe scenes to the first people arriving, said Jennifer Martinez of the Office of Emergency Management Communications.

“It helps the call-taker paint a picture for those first responders as to what to expect,” Martinez said. “When you are dealing with an emergency, you have seconds to make sure you respond correctly.”

Martinez said police do not release the specific number of cameras in service because of security, but that all the cameras in the city are linked to emergency services. Most of the cameras are located in the “central business district.” Every neighborhood in the city has cameras and will get more as time goes on, Martinez said.

Chicago crime has been on the rise the past several years, according to the Chicago Police department, and Martinez said she believes the cameras will help prevent crime in the city.

“This is a more efficient, effective response, so that ultimately means safer neighborhoods and safer residents,” Martinez said.

Alderman Scott Waguespack (32nd ward) said he thinks the link between 911 and the cameras will not work if the city does not hire people to constantly watch the cameras.

“Most of the time, there is not a person looking at the camera 24/7,” Waguespack said. “It only works if there are the human resources to watch it.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois has said crime will not be prevented and the new link between the cameras and 911 calls will not be more efficient.

Ed Yohnka, director of communications for the ACLU of Illinois, referred to the link as a “reflection of the continuing and seemingly insatiable appetite that [Chicago’s] leadership has for surveillance.”

Yohnka believes the cameras could possibly be used for unnecessary and illegal virtual searches and violate an individual’s privacy rights. With the 911 links, more people will be watching the cameras, and there is a higher chance that these searches will occur.

“There is a great deal of possibility for abuse in the context of actually searching or engaging in something that is a virtual search, and there really is no cause,” Yohnka said. “There is also the somewhat significant possibility that you can have the officer using the camera in a way that is prurient.”

Yohnka said Chicago’s surveillance has reached “massive” levels and that it goes unmonitored by authorities.

“It is a little bit unclear what criminal activity they are halting or stopping,” Yohnka said.

Martinez said the city has taken privacy rights into consideration and that no rights have been violated.

“We respect the residents’ First Amendment rights, and we are not going to violate that,” Martinez said. “We will use this tool to make the city as safe as it can be.”

Waguespack said he believes there are privacy issues with the cameras, as well.

“People in my neighborhood don’t see the benefit of having cameras looking at crime 24/7,” Waguespack said.

He said he also thinks that the cameras create a “stigma” for the neighborhood that residents do not like and would like to see the money used for other city issues.

“I’d rather see [the city] spend money on infrastructure improvement,” Waguespack said.

Waguespack also thinks technology can only go so far and that people need to prevent crime in the city by being more involved in their communities and knowing their neighborhoods.

“Getting the community involved on a human level” Waguespack said would be more effective. “We need residents and businesses involved.”