Chicago Expands Surveillance Camera Network

Emanuel Approves New Surveillance Cameras

Though Chicago is already home to at least 10,000 private security cameras which, combined, account for the most extensive and integrated camera network in the country, Mayor Rahm Emanuel has agreed to expand that network even further.

As the Chicago Sun-Times reported Wednesday, Emanuel approved three new Loop sites for surveillance -- the Chicago Board of Trade, the Federal Reserve and AT&T's switching center -- as he chaired his first Public Building Commission meeting this week. The new cameras will reportedly be paid for with a $650,000 federal grant from the Department of Homeland Security.

"It’s necessary," Emanuel said of adding the new cameras at locations he considers to be potential terrorist targets. "They’re key buildings. They were not a part of the network. The fiber had already been laid. I don’t know if I’d use the word weird or strange. But, if you’ve laid the fiber and you have key pieces of critical national security … that don’t have the cameras…"

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) released a report in February that criticized Chicago's extensive use of surveillance cameras and described Chicagoans as among "the most-watched citizens in the country" according to the Associates Press. The ACLU suggested that the city focus on hiring more officers to address crime, rather than buying new cameras, which they've implemented steadily over the past decade.

"Chicago's camera network invades the freedom to be anonymous in public places, a key aspect of the fundamental American right to be left alone," the ACLU report stated. "Each of us then will wonder whether the government is watching and recording us when we walk into a psychiatrist's office, a reproductive health care center, a political meeting, a theater performance, or a book store."

Former Chicago Police Superintendent Jody Weis, however, supported the cameras, and said they help deter crime and are cost effective for a police department forced to work with fewer officers than usual. The cameras also help officers collect solid evidence to bring to court, he added.

"Rather than having the guys do surveillance on the street, they are sitting back and watching it on the cameras," Weis told Chicago Magazine in 2009. "They've got the cars identified, they know who to go after, and they can arrest the people."

"People want these cameras in their neighborhoods," former mayor Richard M. Daley said in 2009 "We can't afford to have a police officer on every corner, but cameras are the next best thing."

Weis' predecessor Garry McCarthy has yet to comment publicly on the city's surveillance camera network.

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