Can new cameras on Stony Island Avenue stop drag races and carjackings in Pill Hill? Alderman of the South Side Hopeful

PILL HILL — Some south side neighbors are taking issue with their alderman for installing street cameras and license plate readers across the area in hopes of deterring crime and curbing speeding.

Aldus. Michelle Harris (8th) announced on Saturday that she was adding police observation cameras and license plate readers along Stony Island Avenue.

Over the next few weeks, cameras and plate readers will also appear on neighborhood streets “rife with gang violence and drug activity,” Harris said.

Technicians have already begun work to install the cameras and plate readers at East 94th Street and South Stony Island Avenue, Harris told the Block Club. Some neighborhood cameras are also already operational. Harris’s office will not divulge these locations so as not to warn anyone who may commit a crime.

While some neighbors say they appreciate Harris’ action, others say they’re worried about privacy and didn’t know cameras were being considered. Some residents said they doubted the technology would work.

“I just don’t think it’s going to work, and I wonder if it’s an invasion of privacy to some degree,” said Washington Heights neighbor Tracey Pickett. “For my part, I would not go to this intersection because it does not concern anyone to whom my car is registered. We were not alerted to the fact that another level of Big Brother was going to be instituted specifically in our community.

The idea for the cameras came after a spike in carjackings and car crashes along Stony Island Avenue last summer, Harris said.

Working with the 4th Police District, she analyzed popular intersections where carjackers were entering and exiting the neighborhood with stolen vehicles, she said. Coupled with “astronomical speed” on the busy street, 94th and Stony Island have become the perfect place to monitor some of the most common crimes in her neighborhood, she said.

Cameras and plate readers are recording and the police will have access to the footage, but this is not a live stream monitored by cops. Neighbors can report crimes such as drivers going over the speed limit to police, and officers can use the security features to track down the person responsible, Harris said.

“These are not revenue-driven cameras,” Harris said. “I want to kill this. It’s about catching criminals, so when things happen and the police have a plate number, they can put it in the system and those cameras will catch it.

The cameras cost $500,000 of the alderman’s menu budget, an amount allocated annually to each ward office for infrastructure projects and community improvements, Harris said. She hopes to seek more funding from state officials to create a network of cameras across the community, she said.

“As an alderman, I don’t have all the answers, but I try to put plans in place that will work for my community,” Harris said. “It’s another tool to help the police do their job. And the more tools they have on their tool belt, the better they do at policing.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Aldus. Michelle Harris (8th) during a city council meeting on June 25, 2021.

Brian Mullins, a South Shore resident for 40 years, said he’s seen speeding drivers run red lights and crash their cars on Stony Island. Violent crime and carjackings are also on the rise in his community, he said.

But he doesn’t think putting cameras and plate readers in his community is the best option. Police need to have the ability to catch someone in the act, not when they’re already gone, Mullins said.

“You can put up 20 cameras, but that won’t stop people from drag racing on Stony Island,” Mullins said. “These are just after-the-fact solutions. We see these POD cameras everywhere, but what we don’t see is attaching these videos to crime. It doesn’t stop the crime.

Nedra, a 55-year-old Calumet Heights resident who asked only to use her first name, also said carjackings and speeding were persistent issues. She has seen serious accidents on 79th Street and Stony Island Avenue “at least once a week”.

But she said she’s “on the fence” about the cameras, and she’s not sure how they’ll help prevent crime.

“It’s better to have than not to have,” she says. “The real solution is more police presence. If you have the POD cameras and the plate readers and they record someone going down Stony Island at 100 miles an hour, so what? I think it will probably be best used as an investigative tool, but in terms of crime deterrence at the time of crime, I don’t think it’s an effective tool.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
The intersection of 79th Street, Stony Island and South Chicago at Avalon Park on June 10, 2021.

Some neighbors said they should have had a chance to speak out on the matter before the cameras went off. They believe residents have a right to know where they will be and that authorities have not been transparent about all the information the cameras may collect.

“We have the right to know what’s going on in our community, and we have the right to have a voice in what’s going on in our community,” Pickett said. “We haven’t had the opportunity to be part of the process, and I think there needs to be more public meetings or a system in place where communication is consistent and transparent and not discussed once the project is complete. “

Harris said she’s aware neighbors might be concerned about privacy, but there are cameras “everywhere you go.”

“When you walk into the grocery store, you’re on camera and they’re looking at you,” Harris said. “Wherever you go, you are watched. Big Brother is here. It’s too late to tell.

Neighborhood devices will help police in the area where they need it most, Harris said. And once criminals know they’re being watched, “it will change things,” she says.

“I see technology developing and transpiring in a way where we’ll be able to be better predictors of how to stop crime as it happens,” Harris said. “I think that’s what the cameras will do for us over time: not stop all crime, but reduce a lot of that street crime that’s happening.”

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