Cameras to be placed in city buildings
Community center, library under surveillance by fall
The Daily NorthWestern | May 02, 2005
By Greg Hafkin
By late summer, reading a book in the Evanston Public Library or taking a swim off Dempster Street Beach will all be done on camera.
The Evanston City Council voted 6-2 at its April 25 meeting to spend $133,000 to install 57 cameras on city property, primarily to monitor areas where cash transactions take place -- but where violent crimes are rare.
The cameras will not be continually monitored. They will rather record onto a hard drive that will copy over itself every 30 days. If an incident requires investigation, the tapes can be viewed during that period.
"We're not going to catch people in the act and stop them, but just because the camera is there (it) will be a deterrent," said David Cook, the city's assistant director of facilities management.
This aspect of the plan is partly why Ald. Lionel Jean-Baptiste (2nd) said he voted against it.
"When you just put it in there and no one is watching," he said, "what do you want to prevent?"
Jean-Baptiste also brought up the USA Patriot Act, which the council passed a resolution against in 2003. Part of that legislation allows the Federal Bureau of Investigation to attain individual library records.
The Evanston Public Library, where 16 of the new cameras will be installed, sees 1,500 to 2,000 visitors per day and the occasional incidents of petty theft, said Paul Gottschalk, the library's administrative services manager.
Some of the new cameras will be put in place at the circulation desk, where patrons pay fines on overdue books. But many of the cameras will go in places where no cash changes hands, such as the garage, where a carjacking took place on March 12, Gottschalk said.
"The first question the police asked that day is, 'Do you have security cameras?'" he said.
Other cameras will monitor the library's exit and the study areas on the second and third floors, which cannot be seen from the public service desks.
Cameras are common in urban public libraries. Library staff considered installing cameras when the library was built in 1994, but did not have enough money, Gottschalk said.
"There are some very dysfunctional people who have made home in the library," Ald. Ann Rainey (8th) said at the Administration and Public Works Committee meeting on April 25. "I feel good about these cameras."
During the same meeting, Doug Gaynor, the city's director of parks/forestry and recreation, revealed the city recently paid out on a lawsuit after someone sneaked into the Fleetwood-Jourdain Center, 1655 Foster St., and became injured there. Seven cameras will be installed in that facility.
Six of the cameras will be installed in the Robert Crown Community Center and Ice Complex, 1701 Main St. Crown does not have a major crime problem, said Robert Lloyd, the center's manager, although sometimes people's cell phones and jackets are reported stolen.
"It's pretty secure here and people lock up their belongings," Lloyd said.
But parts of the building cannot be seen from the front desk and require additional security, he said.
"We do have a preschool program here so we need to know what's going on, at least in the main hallways in the building," Lloyd said.
Ed Yohnka, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, said the fact that the Evanston City Council even discussed the cameras is an encouraging sign. He noted that in Chicago, street cameras were installed after announcements by the Chicago Police.
Cameras were recently installed in other Chicago suburbs, with some of them monitoring thoroughfares and Metra stations, Yohnka said.
Cameras were successful in reducing crime in other large public buildings in Evanston. About six years ago, about 500 security cameras went up Evanston Township High School. In the first four months, "nuisances" such as theft and graffiti decreased by 75 percent, said ETHS spokeswoman Kathy Miehls.
Evanston leaders could have given their decision more consideration, Yohnka said.
"How do you say on one hand we have a concern about the Patriot Act -- the use of surveillance in the library -- and then turn around and put your own surveillance system in there?" he asked.
Reach Greg Hafkin at email@example.com.