Getting your Evanston news from Facebook? Try the Evanston RoundTable’s free daily and weekend email newsletters – sign up now!
Subscribe to the newsletter!
The picture of trouble on the City’s west side is a mix of after-school skirmishes near Evanston Township High School and disputes that have ended in deadly or near-fatal shootings in the area west and north of the school. Whether these murders and attempted murders stem from gangs, drug deals or other disagreements, it is clear that most of the youth involved, whether victims, suspects or offenders, are, for the most part, black males 18-24 years old.
The City has committed a variety of resources to the west side, ranging from attending and convening community meetings, providing a strong police and community presence during dismissal time at the high school, offering street outreach to those at risk of antisocial activities – such as carrying weapons or joining gangs – to police action, such as the targeted stop-and-frisk program implemented this year.
Two additional ways to address the violence are a safe school zone, proposed by ETHS officials, and a corridor of security cameras along Church Street and Dodge Avenue proposed by Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl and Police Chief Richard Eddington.
Safe School Zones and Cameras
Last year a survey given to Illinois public school students in sixth through 12th grades showed that, while most ETHS students said they felt safe in school and on school property, only 58 percent said they felt safe outside the school.
Mayor Tisdahl said when she asked a group of ETHS students who serve as an advisory group whether cameras would make them feel safer, they replied affirmatively. The Mayor said she opposed the safe school zone and is proposing instead a string of security cameras. Cameras are “preferable to the safe school zones,” she said.
The Mayor’s proposal is for the City to install two corridors of security cameras, each more than a mile long, along Church Street and Dodge Avenue. The Church Street corridor would stretch from McCormick Boulevard to Asbury Avenue or possibly into the downtown area, she said, and the Dodge Avenue corridor from Simpson Street to Howard Street. She has said that grant money will be available in January, so she would like to have community input to see whether the City should apply for a camera grant.
Both Mayor Tisdahl and Police Chief Eddington said the cameras would be “minimally intrusive,” would monitor activity only on the sidewalks and would not be capable of facial recognition.
The cameras would have live feed, Chief Eddington said, and would be monitored by the three civilians who staff the 911 center. When a 911 call comes in, the monitors can focus on the camera feed from that spot, he said.
The Mayor made her proposal public at ward meetings in November and scheduled two community meetings to discuss the proposal. One was held on Dec. 10 at the Levy Center.
At the Nov. 14 Second Ward meeting, neighbors expressed concerns about privacy and whether putting cameras on the main arteries would result in shifting crime into the neighborhoods. At the Nov. 21Fifth Ward meeting, residents appeared more receptive to the idea. A possible explanation may be that there are already several cameras in the area. Shootings have increased in the Fifth Ward during the past year and a half. The Dec. 10 meeting drew a wider audience than either ward meeting. While both sides – for and against cameras – were represented, about 75 percent of those who spoke and who were not City employees said they opposed the cameras.
Safety and Deterrence: The Case for Cameras
Both Chief Eddington and Mayor Tisdahl said they believe additional cameras would provide “another tool” for the police.
Chief Eddington said a benefit of cameras is that they are “there all the time. Police officers are expensive items [with shift changes, vacations, etc.] … Oftentimes one hot call can change the total deployment – but if there’s a hot call the camera’s not going to move,” he said. Cameras, both public and private, can help solve crimes or verify alibis, exonerating suspects, he told the RoundTable.
Asked for empirical evidence that cameras in fact deter crime rather than relocate it, Chief Eddington said for him the proof of the efficacy of cameras is in the cleared cases. “If I am able to detain and arrest and charge those offenders – that’s part of deterrence, because you don’t have a follow-on crime,” he said.
Chief Eddington said in a separate interview he feels that adding additional police officers is “financially unworkable” and that cameras would add the “use of technology maximizing the productivity of the people that we have. … This is a further enhancement of those human efforts.” He also said, “I’m terribly concerned that if we walk away from this tool and there’s another event – I’m not sure that’s a good path.”
Mayor Tisdahl said her camera proposal “seems to address concerns that are legitimate and have been raised. … I would like to say that I am not proposing cameras as a way to solve crime. It’s one tool that will help the police do their job.”
In a separate interview, Mayor Tisdahl told the RoundTable, “It’s an emotional issue for me. We have to make the community safe. … We need to be better and we can be better.”
Kevin Brown, youth and young adult program manager for the City, who brought several of his staff members with him, said both he and his staff supported cameras.
Seth Green, executive director of Youth Organizations Umbrella, said, “I see this in the context of a multifaceted set of interventions to keep the community safe… to try to prevent crime from happening … [and] adding to the very human effort.”
ETHS student Brandi Efiom said, “It would be great to have cameras around ETHS. … I really appreciate that there will be another watchful eye.”
Addressing the audience, resident Frank Warren said, “If you’re saying ‘no,’ come up with something.”
Chief Eddington told the RoundTable he is “puzzled at the protest, because we’ve already got cameras in Evanston. We’ve got cameras and have not turned into Big Brother.” He said Evanston police “understand the values of the community, and we understand how to behave.” Those who oppose the cameras “would be hard-pressed to show how we have misused technology. … I know they are sincere in their concerns. But what have I done or what has the EPD done that erodes their confidence in us?”
The Case Against Cameras: Concern for Civil Liberties and Skepticism About Deterrence
Concerns about civil liberties and about the efficacy of cameras in preventing crime dominated the two-hour meeting on Dec. 10. Many residents said they were wary of cameras and of the potential involvement of Homeland Security, since that is one source of funding for which the City could apply. Some were concerned about the erosion of civil liberties. Others said they felt cameras would provide a false sense of security rather than deter crime.
Civil Liberties: Marcia Bernsten said she feared that if Homeland Security funded the cameras, it would upgrade the technology to include facial-recognition and other intrusive software.
Rosalie Riegle said, “Look at the evolution of technology. Do we want to be China in Evanston?”
“All of us as Americans are asked to give up personal liberty,” said Kathryn Callaghan. “I would like to feel that Evanston is a haven. I am afraid for the future. There will be more cameras in five years, more cameras in 10 years. You say there is no facial recognition – but will that be true later?”
An email to the RoundTable from Sallie Gratch said, “Imagine, our government is luring towns to take on the job of citizen-tracking by making grants available to cover surveillance cameras. … What a set-up. We’ll end up doing the work for NSA. … Really, quite another country, this.”
Deterrence: Ms. Bernsten said the camera initiative is “being sold as a deterrent. It isn’t that. You’re talking about a corridor wider than the crime [spots]… It isn’t about deterrence.”
Jevoid Simmons questioned whether it was reasonable to expect offenders and potential offenders to use Church Street or Dodge Avenue rather than use residential streets. “Won’t they just go out of the camera’s reach?” he asked.
Chief Eddington said many offenders are under the influence of alcohol or drugs and “have a different reasoning template,” so crime would likely not shift to residential areas.
Mayor Tisdahl said, “If they are smart they will go [other routes than the cameras] but those who want to be safe, will walk where the cameras are.”
Kelley Elwood said that from what she had learned about security cameras from her middle-school-aged daughter, “I don’t see that putting cameras [will help]. … Cameras are not an effective deterrence.”
Ms. Gratch said, “From what we’ve heard tonight I would request that these be presented as a way to solve crimes rather than deterrence.”
Other Concerns: Ms. Gratch was one of several residents who said that if the cameras were useful only after a crime had been committed, their presence could give a false sense of security.
Emma Garl Smith said, “The number one thing is the safety of students. If the camera is on, someone is going to think, this camera is going to make me safe [but] that person walking home is not going to be safe. The cameras are not going to do it.”
Bennett Johnson said, “Cameras are not a way to prevent crime. Kevin Brown on the street is more effective than any camera. … If we are serious about deterring crime, we need more people – more police living in Evanston. More police working on the streets of Evanston is what we need.”
This was the first of two neighborhood meetings about the proposed cameras. The second was scheduled for Dec. 18 at Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center.
In July, Evanston Township High School officials proposed an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) with the City, under which a safe school zone would be created. The safe school zone would essentially extend the high school perimeter to the far edges of the sidewalks across the streets bordering the high school.
Under the proposed IGA, ETHS would be able to ask police to clear the sidewalks of anyone in the safe school zone who was reasonably suspected of threatening the school, students, faculty or staff. The police would ask the person or persons to leave the area, and if that did not happen, the person or person could be arrested.
Neighborhood opposition led by Second Ward Alderman Peter Braithwaite and Fifth Ward Alderman Delores Holmes convinced the City to back away from the IGA.
A legal opinion by the law firm Franczek Radelet, the high school’s attorney, may have rendered the IGA controversy moot. In that opinion, the law firm said safe school zones are created by state statute, 720 ILCS 5/21-5.5, which defines “criminal trespass to a safe school zone” as a Class A misdemeanor.
The statute allows a safe school zone to reach as far as the IGA prescribed – that is, to the far edge of the sidewalks opposite the high school.
Thus, the opinion concluded, an IGA is not necessary for the police to enforce a safe school zone. The opinion is posted on the school’s website, eths.k12.il.us, under “Board of Education.”
Corporation Counsel Grant Farrar told the RoundTable, “As with all laws, the City will consistently and fairly enforce this particular statute across the street from the high school if facts and circumstances support the necessary charging decision.”