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The second of two public meetings convened to obtain input about a proposed surveillance camera corridor ended in an apparent standoff, with some of those opposing the cameras saying they believe Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl has already made up her mind, and the Mayor saying she doubted that those who attended one or both of the meetings – the majority of whom at each meeting opposed the cameras – in fact represented the sentiment of the community.
Mayor Tisdahl said that in other, private, meetings, residents said they supported her proposal to install a string of surveillance cameras along Dodge Avenue between Simpson and Howard streets and on Church Street from McCormick Boulevard to Ridge Avenue or perhaps all the way into downtown Evanston. (Previous stories about the proposed camera corridor are on the RoundTable’s website, evanstonroundtable.com.)
Both Mayor Tisdahl and Police Chief Richard Eddington have said the cameras would be “minimally invasive” and would not have facial-recognition capability. They would not have the flashing blue lights that signal the presence of surveillance cameras, and they look like enlarged street-lamp bulbs.
The cameras, moreover, would not be continually monitored, said Chief Eddinton, but would be on and observable by the staff in the 911 center, so should a call come in, the staff member could home in on the camera or cameras in that area.
Based on past experiences, Chief Eddington said, he believes these cameras will help solve crimes. Two homicides in 2011 were cleared with help from footage from private cameras, he said. When detectives arrive at the scene of a crime, one of the first things they do is check for cameras, said Chief Eddington.
Over the course of both meetings and in a separate interview with the RoundTable, Chief Eddington repeated that the cameras would not be a substitute for the police officers on the street but would be an additional tool to solve crime.
“If we think of this as a stand-alone thing, it’s bound to fail. … It has to be an integrated system – cameras backed up with the human touch of police officers and street outreach workers. This is more like a full-court press than a way to make life easier,” he said.
Many of those who spoke at the Dec. 18 meeting said they had lived in Evanston for years, even decades.
“I have been increasingly aware of the mass incarceration of black youth,” said Charles Smith. He questioned whether the cameras would result in additional arrests of black youth.
“This [the camera corridor] is a deterrent,” “said Mayor Tisdahl, “so in my view it should decrease crime rather than increase arrests.”
“The whole notion is to make these kids feel safe,” said Jevoid Simmons. “We don’t want them to feel safe if they are not safe.”
“This is not a guarantee of safety, not a promise of safety,” Mayor Tisdahl said. She said she had visited homes on Darrow Avenue after the shooting of Floyd Gibert early last month and “people on Darrow said they are worried about … their neighborhood and they want cameras.”
“What about the kids in the neighborhood?” asked Carolyn Murray, whose son Justin was killed in December of 2012. “… Why are they [cameras] not in high-crime areas? The ones we have already agreed to … are useless.”
Security cameras have been in place at Dewey Avenue and Simpson Street for several years. When Chief Eddington was asked whether information from that camera helped in solving the murder of Mr. Gibert in early December, he said it did not, because the shooter was “out of camera range.”
Ms. Murray asked if walking in the camera corridors was the only way students would be safe.
“It will give students a choice,” said Mayor Tisdahl. “They can walk one way or another.”
The cameras will simply create an “illusion of safety,” said Dickelle Fonda.
As at the Dec. 10 meeting, Mayor Tisdahl was asked to wait for additional community input before bringing the matter to City Council for a vote. She said at the Dec. 18 meeting that she felt she could not wait longer, in part because she did had not heard sufficient input to change her mind and in part because “money from Cook County will be available in January,” she said. Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin told the RoundTable that Homeland Security funding, administered by the County, will be available in January for crime-fighting measures. He said he had told Mayor Tisdahl about the availability of funding, saying it was up to the City to complete the application. He acts as a conduit of information to Evanston and the other municipalities he represents, he said, and has nothing to do with the decision to award the funds.
“I feel frustrated that this proposal has to be made before the community has had a chance to talk about it,” said Jackie Newsome.
“I have met with enough groups by now,” said Mayor Tisdahl. “I have talked with kids. There have been enough meetings.”
Mr. Smith said, “I thought of Evanston as a place where we deal with our problems in a very humane way. Has there been a study of the effect of cameras on the economy? I’ve always associated cameras of this type with [areas] where there has been a failure. When I heard about these cameras, I was really disappointed to think of Evanston that way.”
Ms. Newsome asked the Mayor “what it would take” for her not to put it on the City Council agenda in January.
“It would take a bunch of things,” said Mayor Tisdahl. “The judges who told me it is a good idea would have to tell me that’s not true. I would have to see a lot more people [at meetings]. I would have to see a much bigger group. I would have to hear from a lot more people. I would have to hear from the [Police] Chief that he has changed his mind. My emails are running about 50-50 for and against the cameras. I’m looking for a way to make the community safer. I would have to be convinced that I am on the wrong track,” she added.
“I am really disappointed to hear that,” said Mr. Smith. “I thought this was a community meeting and you were going to be impartial. Obviously this is a done deal and I wasted my time.”
At present, it appears Mayor Tisdahl plans to put the camera proposal on the agenda for the Jan. 13 City Council meeting.
Two of the four questions – and – responses on school safety in the 5Essential survey, given last spring to Illinois public school students in grades 6-12, dealt with feelings of safety outside the school building. Students had a choice of four answers: Not Safe, Somewhat Safe, Mostly Safe and Very Safe.
According to information posted on the website of the Illinois State Board of Education, 58 percent of ETHS students said they felt “very safe” or “mostly safe” around the school, and 42 percent said they felt “somewhat safe” or “not safe.”
More students – 73 percent – said they felt “safe or mostly safe” traveling between home and school. Twenty-two percent said they felt “somewhat safe” and 5 percent said they did not feel safe.
ETHS students responded to the questions as follows:
“How safe do you feel outside around the school?”
• very safe, 15 percent
• mostly safe, 42.6 percent
• somewhat safe, 33.5 percent and
• not safe, 8.9 percent.
“How safe do you feel traveling between home and
• very safe, 29.4 percent
• mostly safe, 43.9 percent
• somewhat safe, 21.8 percent and
• not safe, 4.8 percent.
Eighty-four percent of ETHS students responded to the survey. It was also available for parents to take, but results were not reported if 30 percent or fewer parents took the survey.