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ACLU wants city to stop putting up cameras

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

The American Civil Liberties Union is urging the city to order a moratorium on expanding its video-surveillance system and is calling on new rules to safeguard citizens’ privacy.

Chicago’s network of more than 10,000 public and private surveillance cameras is already the most extensive and integrated in the nation.

Most aldermen appear to like it that way because of the sense of security that cameras can bring to residents of high-crime neighborhoods.

Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th), chairman of the City Council’s Finance Committee, scoffed at the demand for a halt in installing new cameras.

“Anyone who’s had a tour of the 911 center would agree that surveillance cameras are one of the most effective tools in law enforcement today and it seems like they’re very popular with the local residents,” said Burke, a former Chicago Police officer.

“I wouldn’t want to see anything that would interfere with what the Police Department has been able to achieve in reduction of crime. A large part of that is using technology to supplement personnel,” he added.

The ACLU, in a report made public today, said the millions of dollars spent on cameras could have been used to put more officers on the street.

The ACLU also questioned the effectiveness of the cameras. The city says they accounted for 4,500 arrests from 2006 through May 2010, which the ACLU pointed out is less than 1 percent of the total number of arrests over that period.

The report didn’t identify any misconduct involving Chicago’s camera system, but highlighted problems in England and other cities.

“Chicago’s camera network invades the freedom to be anonymous in public places,” the report said, calling on a city review of whether to stop adding or even reduce the number of cameras in the system.

Ald. Carrie Austin (34th), chairman of the City Council’s Budget Committee, said she’s not opposed to a moratorium on new surveillance cameras in her Far South Side ward, acknowledging that “crime in my area has not decreased the way I hope that it would have” when cameras were installed.

But, she said, “There are many communities that are asking for them. So I wouldn’t want to impose my opinion on what needs to be done in somebody else’s community.”

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